Geographies in Depth

Could drones protect India’s women from rapists?

A woman walks through a subway under railway tracks in Mumbai January 7, 2014.

Image: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Vijay Raju
Head of Strategy, Forum Members, World Economic Forum Geneva
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The horrific rape and murder of a young woman in Kerala is the latest among the many violent, sexual crimes against women in recent years in India. The data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that there has been a 200% increase in rapes over the past decade and a 35% increase in rape incidents after 2012. This suggests that the “tough measures” put in place since 2012 have failed, or that the new laws have encouraged more women to come forward and report the crimes than ever before.

Even the above data doesn’t present the actual reality on the ground, as the number of cases reported is far less than the actual numbers. Because of social stigma and various other social reasons, it is believed that only 1 in 100 cases are reported. At a time when the Indian government is leaving no stone unturned in its attempt to build “Brand India”, this problem is the one that grabs the headlines in global media.

Looking to the sky for answers

In India, a country of 1.2 billion people, there aren’t enough police officers to ensure every single person is complying with the law. At the same time, the once-strong fear that “someone” was watching you from above has also waned.

This reminds of a famous scene from the great Indian epic “Mahabharata”, where Krishna, a Hindu deity, protects a woman being harassed by a group of men. India needs a Krishna equivalent in the modern context to protect women: could drones be the answer?

A recent innovation called Nixie, a wearable drone that can fly, could provide a new and interesting way of tackling the problem India is facing. Nixie is a small camera you wear like a watch, but with straps that unfold, turning it into a flying quadcopter. Nixie will then launch skywards from your wrist, where its swivelling camera can shoot videos of you from the air by following you and return to you after shooting.

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Nixie and similar drone cameras seem to be the Krishna that we are desperately looking for all these years. A smart ecosystem like the one below could be created by orchestrating a network of stakeholders who are connected to each other through a central platform that is connected to the end-user who is equipped with a smartphone and Nixie wearable drone.

What would this ecosystem look like?

Multi-lingual call centre: A multi-lingual call-centre would be the heart of the ecosystem and serve as a platform that connects the end user with the various actors who play the role of preventing crimes on the ground and protecting the victim after a crime had happened. The call-centre would serve as an information exchange and tourist guide, and would provide virtual security.

Security network: A security network could be formed that would immediately rush to the location if needed. Even though it is not practical to expect to have a policeman cover every square kilometre of a city, it is very important to find creative ways to increase the security footprint across a city, drawing, for example, on NCC cadets and ex-servicemen.

Is it commercially viable?

Over 8 million tourists visited India last year. If we offer this service to 5% of the tourists at a nominal fee of $100 per person, we would be able to generate $40 million to fund the project.

With the growing number of international tourists, but also the growing need for similar services for working women, kids and domestic tourists, this could be an interesting opportunity for public-private partnerships.

Of course, for any new service, there are going to be huge technological hurdles. For example, the battery life of a smartphone and network coverage on the outskirts of a city are important challenges that would need to be sorted out. There will also be policy and regulatory challenges, such as the laws governing the use of drones and the question of privacy, which inevitably arises the moment drones are used for filming.

While strict regulations, safety concerns, and technical challenges make this drone-enabled ecosystem seem far-fetched, innovations like this through public-private partnerships could provide the much needed breakthrough for India and this ongoing problem.

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthEquity, Diversity and InclusionEmerging Technologies
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