Revolutionary rescue technology developed in Israel in the wake of the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers is now being used by large companies, enterprises, academic institutions, and emergency service providers to keep workers and civilians safe.
SayVU Technologies says it is working with partners all over the world to find technological solutions for emergency services and first responders, as well as create safer cities and workplaces.
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Founded in the fall of 2014 by Amotz Koskas, Alex Rivkin and Dror Matalon, the company developed an end-to-end platform designed to minimize the emergency response time for personal and public safety.
It allows users to send a distress signal from a mobile phone without having to place a call – even when the phone is locked. SayVu can identify and relay information about an emergency situation based on simple gestures such as shaking the device, or through pre-defined sequences such as tapping the camera button several times or simply speaking into the phone.
“We created the shake gesture while the device is locked,” Koskas, the company’s CEO and co-founder of the Israeli Crime Scene Innovation (iCSI) meetup community for CrimeTech innovators, says, explaining the SayVU prototype to NoCamels. “The shake is simple to use, everybody knows how to shake.”
The shake, for example, triggers a process that records and transcribes the user’s voice, using an algorithm to determine the emergency based on what was said. “If you said something like ‘get off of me,’ it might interpret it as a sexual assault,” Koskas says of the transcription feature. The recording can then be sent to nearby authorities and emergency contacts with location information for tracking and prompt assistance.
The technology also provides real-time event and emergency reporting to emergency medical services and law enforcement agencies and was most recently used widely at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to keep participants and attendees safe. It can also “check-in” with users if unusual activity or patterns are detected, sending a message via the phone that, if unanswered, issues a distress signal to authorities.
A tragic catalyst
The catalyst for the service was a tragic incident over five years ago that gripped the nation and the world.
In June 2014, Israeli teenagers Gilad Shaar, 16, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were kidnapped in the West Bank while trying to hitch a ride home near a bus stop in the Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut. They unknowingly got into a vehicle with members of what turned out to be a terrorist cell.
The next chain of events exposed a tragic mishandling on the part of Israel’s emergency and rescue response at the time – and revealed just how quickly a technological solution was needed.
When Shaar managed to place a call – just a few minutes after the kidnapping – to the police emergency line to alert authorities, the young operator on the line could vaguely make out some whispering but was uncertain whether the call was real. The operator consulted a superior who tried to call the number back several times but eventually decided not to pursue the matter. Hours later, after Shaar’s family reported him missing and unreachable, Israel’s military and the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, were made aware of the incident and launched a wide-ranging manhunt. But by then, valuable time had been lost.
Once the teenagers’ bodies were found buried in shallow graves in a field near Hebron in the West Bank some three weeks after the kidnapping, authorities released the chilling two-minute, nine-second call where Shaar could be heard whispering “we’ve been kidnapped,” followed by gunfire and voices shouting in Arabic in the background.
The call strengthened suspicions that the teenagers had been murdered a short time after the kidnapping. The time that elapsed between the Shaar’s call and when the IDF was notified allowed the terrorists to hide the bodies, burn evidence, and escape – evading capture for weeks.
Failure to immediately act on the distress call as soon as it was made eventually led to the dismissal of four senior police officers.
The tragic outcome had a deep impact on Koskas who at the time was an MBA student at Ben-Gurion University. Along with his co-founders, he began developing the idea that would answer two main needs: allow people to send out a distress message and location quickly in an emergency, and without alerting any kidnappers, and enable authorities to get a clear, real-time situation report.
SayVU now partners with various companies around the globe, like security services monitoring, consulting and investigation group Securitas in the United States and Switzerland, to create safer work environments.
“We do business-to-business for organizations that care for their employees,” Koskas tells NoCamels. These companies are willing to pay for the service because their employees may be working in high-risk environments, he explains.
SayVu’s newest partnership is with the Weizmann Institute of Science. The agreement, signed in June, sees SayVu “deploy an advanced command and control system to identify and report distress situations of employees, researchers, and students in an environment without GPS positioning or cellular networks,” the company said in a statement.
SayVU introduced a new version of its platform on smartwatches that can identify a distress situation and report the exact location of the user even in areas with no cellular networks and/or GPS signal
Currently, the Weizmann Institute’s staff, researchers, and students are equipped with the smartwatches which identify a fall or shock that might be automatically triggered or reported by the individual in a distress situation, according to the statement. If either signal is triggered, the system alerts SayVU’s advanced system installed at the Institute’s security center. The center will then immediately send security staff to the location in order to provide a quick and life-saving response as the system is capable of specifying the exact location of the person inside the building.
The use of auxiliary devices like the smartwatch is an effort by SayVU to adapt to the needs of different companies, and others include drones, cameras, and more case-specific tools, says Koskas.
In the case of a town in South America, SayVU created a button for public transportation drivers to use in the case of muggings and attacks, Alex Rivkin, SayVu’s CTO and senior software developer, tells NoCamels. When the use of the SayVU system became known, crime was reduced and the use of public transportation was increased, Rivkin says.
SayVU is able to constantly evolve its system by generating a “wide variety of insights” to provide to its stakeholders, such as the first responders, victims, or business partners, he says, adding that their next major development is being able to provide “accurate positioning for first responders on scene in an indoor environment.” The founders say the system can eliminate the time it takes for a first responder to arrive on scene by about 75 percent.
“That can save lives,” Koskas affirms.
SayVU says it is now finalizing a contract with US telecommunications giant AT&T that could potentially save the lives of employees who work at high altitudes on cell towers. A unique feature of the platform will be the ability to measure the speed of freefall which, according to Koskas, is “complicated to identify” because a phone will flip or rotate during the fall.
“SayVU’s main mission is to continue to develop advanced technology that focuses on understanding the user’s environment and situation, creating both a full report and reflecting a detailed snapshot of events within seconds,” Koskas tells NoCamels.