Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Three schools are better than one, it seems, as students studying design, engineering and business at Carnegie Mellon University have proven. As part of their degree programmes they have developed mobile phone technology that could help prevent date rape at parties and other social events. Their course is one of a growing number in universities that bring together students from multiple schools in science, engineering, design and business.

The problem

An estimated one in five of the 12m women enrolled in US colleges and universities will experience rape or attempted rape while they are students, with between 80 and 90 per cent of the attacks committed by people known to the victims. Most of the attacks involve the consumption of alcohol, at parties and university social gatherings – fraternity events, for example.

The solution

Spot is a wearable device designed for the risk managers in college fraternity groups, those students who are designated to keep events safe. Revellers can download a phone app that enables them to send a message to the fraternity risk managers if they think someone could be in trouble. When a message is sent, the risk manager’s wristwatch-like device vibrates or uses a coded light system to alert the wearer.

How the product was developed

Spot was the result of the collaboration between six students at Carnegie Mellon University between January and May this year, including two MBA students from the Tepper school and four students from the schools of engineering and design. The project was developed at the Integrated Innovation Institute, a collaboration between the different departments at Carnegie Mellon.

Tepper MBA graduate Connie Chun was one of the business school students that successfully applied for the Spot team. “I was always interested in product development but I never thought of product development as a social issue,” she says.

The Spot team was one of several collaborative groups that worked on a variety of projects. Another Carnegie Mellon team developed a party planning app similar to Spot, but designed for individuals rather than fraternities. The app, Night Owl, enables individuals to alert each other in high-risk situations.

What next?

Although Ms Chun has now graduated from Tepper and is working for a US toy manufacturer, other members of the team are considering the further commercialisation of Spot. “This wasn’t just a five to six-month project for us,” says Ms Chun. The Institute has applied for provisional patents for Spot and Ms Chun and her teammates are hoping the device could be used in universities and colleges across the US. Ms Chun also sees a wider appeal for the product in nightclubs, bars and concert venues, where there is an established security staff.

Get alerts on Carnegie Mellon University when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article