Carnegie Mellon University
April 07, 2015

Safety in Numbers

Safety in Numbers In Swahili, Tembea means “walk with me.” Here at Carnegie Mellon, it’s the name of the app concept that won CEE graduate students Nivruti Sridhar (MS '15) and George Lederman (PhD '16) first prize in the CMU IdeaSpace Competition, which challenged students from across campus to form innovative solutions for some of society’s most difficult problems. Sridhar and Lederman’s team won $1000 for their idea that would make it safer for women to walk at night by connecting them with travel companions.

“Women’s safety is something that’s pretty close to my heart because I’m from India, and it’s a big problem there,” says Sridhar. “Not only in India, really—I think this a problem worldwide.” Though Sridhar was the only female member of the group, she says all the team members were passionate about promoting women's safety. “All of them had women they know who feel unsafe: sisters, friends, girlfriends. They wanted a way to ensure they could all get home safely.”

By logging into the app through Facebook, users could locate friends and friends of friends who were headed to the same neighborhood. After selecting a minimum of two travel companions, the app then locates a “safe place” equidistant to everyone in the group, where they would meet to begin their journey.

“There are a lot of apps that help you call the police in response to a problem,” explains Lederman. “But the great thing about finding people to walk with is that it’s preventative; if you’re in a big group, you won’t be harassed in the first place.”

The team, which included students from Tepper and Dietrich colleges, also won points for creating a concept that was financially sustainable. “The way the app works is that there has to be a safe place where users can meet,” explains Lederman. “If that safe place was a Starbucks, for example, then we’d serve them a coupon for $1 off a mochaccino, maybe.” Lederman says that by partnering with businesses in this way, they could easily regain the cost of developing the app.  

Both Sridhar and Lederman said that beyond the opportunity to practice their public speaking skills, they were eager to collaborate with fellow students to change the world for the better. “Much like this app, CEE is all about improving society,” says Lederman, who is grateful for CMU’s tech-focused  approach to the discipline. “The civil engineers here have an advantage when approaching traditional problems; we learn to leverage new technology, like social networks and smart phones to make transit safer.”