Following an armed robbery in which he lost his laptop, 22-year-old Strathmore University computer science student Edwin Inganji began to look at ways in which he could help other victims of crime call for help. He hit upon the concept of “Usalama” (Swahili for “security”), a “panic button” app which could be activated quickly and silently, alert the emergency services of your location and direct them straight to you.
The Android smartphone app is activated simply by shaking your phone three times, holding down the volume button, or tapping on the emergency icon.
Once activated, the app alerts the police, medical or fire authorities, along with every other Usalama user within 200m to increase the chances of summoning help for the person in need. Once activated, the phone will continue to broadcast the gps location of the device, enabling the authorities to trace the criminals’ location.
Now, Inganji’s app has led to him being nominated for the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa prize.
The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, encourages talented sub-Saharan African engineers, from all disciplines, to develop local solutions to challenges in their communities. The Prize selects a shortlist of innovators from across the continent and provides training and mentoring to help turn engineers with incredible ideas into successful entrepreneurs.
Launched in 2014, the Prize aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward innovative engineers from across the continent and is supported by the Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, Consolidated Contractors Company, ConocoPhillips, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the UK Government through the Global Challenges Research Fund.
“In Nairobi, in Kenya generally, reaching the emergency services when you need them is really difficult – the toll-free line just doesn’t go through,” says Inganji, 22. “Either you have to take yourself [to the police station or hospital], or have a witness take you. If no one is around to help you, most of the time you’re screwed.”
– Edwin Inganji
The app could well be a life saver for Kenyan victims of crime since the toll-free government 999 emergency number has been overloaded with prank callers since it was reconnected in 2013.
In Nairobi itself, the crime rate is twice the national average but Ingangi’s app could help the authorities too as it includes a database of all the crimes logged. This data could prove invaluable to the emergency services as it will pinpoint crime hot spots which will enable them to know exactly where to position their law enforcement officers.
“It shows us where crime is happening but the services are failing to deploy. So it shows who is not being accountable, and should make the services act with more responsibility.” – Edwin Inganji
When using the app, the user is asked to input three personal contacts – such as a spouse, parent or work colleague. These individuals are notified alongside the services of any emergency situation, and are given updates every five minutes until the situation is resolved.
Going forward, Inganji and his team plan to increase the functionality of the app beyond its “panic button” use.
We want it to be something that you use every day. Not just something you use when you’re in distress, but something that helps you feel safe.
They are planning to develop a platform where users can share safety news of crimes occurring in their immediate area, in turn alerting police but also warning other Usalama users of dangers in the vicinity.
Also in a future update, they plan to add a “timer” function which allows a user to trigger a distress signal if they haven’t returned home by a set time. They are also developing a “walk with me” feature, which allows users to virtually escort one another home to ensure that each party has returned safely.
The app will be free to the public but emergency service providers will pay for it.