Technology developed in the wake of the tragedy that led to 2014’s Operation Protective Edge – the kidnapping of teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah in June 2014 – is now working to keep thousands of people attending the Rio Olympics safe.
SayVu, an app that started life as a student project at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was chosen by International Security and Defence Systems (ISDS), the company responsible for security at the Olympics, as part of the event’s security initiatives.
“We have established a hotline at the 2016 Rio Olympics,” according to SayVu CEO Amotz Koskas. “The Olympics is a central platform to reveal our unique technology to the world.”
SayVU allows a user to send a distress signal to a hotline in an emergency, even from a locked phone, without having to access the Sayvu application. The message can be sent in a number of ways; shaking the device, pushing outside the lock screen, hitting the camera button or even speaking to the phone.
To use the app, users register with a local authority – in the case of the Rio Olympics, with the local police and Olympic security force. The app includes reporting options for various emergency situations – medical emergency, kidnapping, etc. All a user has to do is select the appropriate emergency, and their profile (name and photo), location, etc. are uploaded immediately to the first responder emergency rescue service, which can dispatch assistance immediately.
The app also has the ability to take control of the device. A pre-defined “hot button” sequence – like pressing the camera button several times in a row – activates the app, and automatically delivers location information, photos, video, and even voice messages to the rescue service. As soon as the emergency develops, users who activate SayVu are automatically tracked by first responders – so in the case of a kidnapping, workers can track their location as they are moved by their kidnappers.
In addition, the app “checks in” with users when it determines an abnormality in their behavior or location; for example, if the user is found to be in a region or neighborhood that they have never visited before, it will send out a message asking if they are OK. If the user does not reply, the app takes over, sending out a distress signal independently.
That technology could prevent another tragic outcome in a case like that of three Israeli teens who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in June 2014. Gilad Shaer, one of the three who were kidnapped and eventually killed as they hitchhiked in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, called police while he was in the back of the vehicle driven by terrorists. An app like SayVu could have informed police of their whereabouts, taken photos, and transmitted conversations in real time.
The incident had a strong effect on Koskas, at the time an MBA student at BGU’s Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, who decided that, given the communications capabilities of smart devices, technology could be developed to prevent future events of the kind.
A year later, Koskas won a joint Google and BGU competition “Students Thinking Innovation in the Public Sector” in collaboration with Digital Israel and the staff of the Accessible Government initiative to promote innovation in the public sector through information and communication technologies. The new technology he developed attempted to meet two main needs: to give citizens the tools to send out a distress message and location quickly in an emergency, and simultaneously, to enable the authorities to get a clear, real-time situation report.
Recently, the company ran a pilot with kindergartens in the Negev town of Ofakim. It was deemed a success when a pedophile was caught in the act by a teacher who used the app and reported on the incident in real time. As a result, the municipality decided to use the app for all educational institutions, social workers and the municipal hotline, with other municipalities following suit, the company said.
SayVu has embarked on a $2 million funding round and is developing strategic partnerships in the US, China, Europe and Africa. The company was also just awarded a $1 million grant from the US-Israeli BIRD (Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development)Foundation funded by Israel’s Public Security Ministry and the US Department of Homeland Security. The funding is for a project to provide orientation within buildings and non-failure communications under extreme conditions to first responders such as police, firefighters, and emergency medicine personnel.
Dr. Eitan Yudilevich, executive director of the BIRD Foundation, said that SayVu’s app was a good example of how Israeli companies are bringing life-saving technologies to the world. “BIRD is proud to cooperate with DHS and MOPS to develop solutions for the most urgent First Responders’ capability gaps,” he said.