Why you should care

Because it’s a simple accessory that might just save you from a sexual assault.

Design student Kristina Colleen likes to dance on a night out. She’s happy swaying to music. But then someone grabs her ass, and her night goes sour. It’s not invited, and it’s definitely not appreciated. “It’s frightening when the stranger you’re talking to is grabbing your boobs,” she told OZY.

Everyone tries to keep an eye out for their friends, but it’s easy to lose them after three tequila shots. If they can’t find you, how do they know you’re OK?

That’s the problem that Vive, a high-tech connected friendship bracelet, hopes to solve. It buzzes on your friend’s wrist to alert them if you need saving.

It’s like a Fitbit for the intoxicated.

Colleen teamed up with five University of Washington design students to create Vive. As they researched sexual harassment, they discovered how many student sexual assaults involved alcohol: at least 97,000 a year.

2 young woman wearing a concept of the Vive bracelet in a bar.

Two young women each wear a concept of the Vive bracelet.

Source Vive

They wanted to create something they could enter in Microsoft’s Research Design Expo 2014. The software company requested project submissions that could create a positive impact, answering the question, “What would you do with a billion sensors?”

Sensors are omnipresent today, but don’t have the greatest rep. People are uncomfortable about Apple’s iBeacon sensors tracking their movements, and light sensors that detect when you enter a room.

The Vive bracelet syncing with the mobile app that connects it to the user's Facebook.

The Vive bracelet syncs with a mobile app that connects it to the user’s Facebook page.

Source Vive

But who’d complain about a douche-detecting bracelet that notifies your friends if you need saving and then lets them find you via integrated GPS?

More than 690,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Think of Vive as a Fitbit for the intoxicated; it’s a wireless bracelet that measures how drunk you are. A transdermal alcohol sensor measures ethanol levels excreted in sweat and a dehydration sensor uses microneedles to measure your electrolytes (electrolytes are the stuff in Gatorade that makes you feel better the next day).

If your levels get too crazy, your friends get alerted.

Sense motion will let your friends know if you’ve passed out; they can track you down with GPS.

The bracelet uses Bluetooth to connect wrist to wrist, and a simple squeeze on your hand will create a mirroring squeeze on their arm, an instant alert that you want to be rescued. The bracelet will softly vibrate all evening; you check in with a squeeze every hour. If you don’t respond, your friends’ arms vibrate harder and they’ll know that you need attention.

Features such as a gyroscope and accelerometer sense motion let them know if you’ve passed out, and they can track you down with GPS using the Vive app. Sounds crazy, right? But the technology to enable the bracelet to do all the above exists right now. *Shiver*

But Melanie Becker, a sexual assault therapist from The Women’s Center has concerns. “This bracelet is getting at bystander intervention and maintaining a system of accountability,” she told OZY. “I think this is an addition to what’s being done but not instead of. It’s important to have the old school check-in and physically see the other person, to provide a concrete degree of safety.”

Dan Doan, Vive Technical Director and Interaction Designer, knows that Vive isn’t going to stop all assault, but hopes it could offer early intervention. He doesn’t want people to associate wearing the bracelet with being a victim. He’d like it to go mainstream, and get adopted as standard policy for music festivals. “This way, everyone can practice self-awareness and look out for the friends in their designated group, and we don’t have a ‘scarlet letter’ for just victims to wear,” he said.

The Vive won an award from Microsoft and the team is taking it into further development. It’s hopeful Vive will make it to market after some tweaks.

But until the Vive becomes a reality, stick with the buddy system — and if you have your friend’s back, high-tech options aren’t really necessary.

This OZY encore was originally published Nov. 1, 2014.

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