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World-first safety app works to keep women and other vulnerable groups in South Africa safe

Eyerus safety app. Supplied image.

Eyerus safety app. Supplied image.

Published May 14, 2022

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Johannesburg - For the last eight years, Sibusiso Mbhele and his team have been hard at work developing a revolutionary safety application in South Africa.

Now after plenty of challenges, highs, and lows, Mbhele, and his team believe they have finally created the ultimate safety app that they hope will keep women and other vulnerable groups in South Africa safe.

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Earlier this year, the safety app Eyerus went live on the Google Play store and the Apple App Store for all South Africans to download.

The app, which was developed by Mbhele and his team at GreenEye Consortium, a 100% black-owned entity, is a world-first safety app that gives South Africans a handle on security and fast response help at their fingertips.

The app is an internationally patented automated algorithm mobile app, designed to provide users with personal safety and security services in the palm of their hands.

It is a gateway to combat contact crime and provide social protection for all, especially women and members of the LGBTIQ+ community who are the most marginalised in South Africa.

Sibusiso Mbhele, founder of safety app Eyerus. Supplied image.

Eyerus enables users to indicate how safe or unsafe they feel in their current surroundings through the use of four safety status modes.

The safety modes are Green Alert Mode (safe and sound), Amber Alert Mode (Live Audio Stream), Red Alert Mode (Live Video Streaming), and Blue Alert Mode (Armed Emergency personnel dispatched).

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All evidence captured is instantly stored on a secure cloud as well as live-streamed to your guardians in real-time.

Using features like the check-in system, Eyerus will automatically detect if you’ve been drugged, unconscious, or incapacitated.

Mbhele, the founder of Eyerus, said the app was inspired by the horrific kidnapping ordeal of hundreds of girls in Nigeria in 2014.

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“Its creation was inspired by the kidnapping of over 270 Chibok girls in Nigeria,” said Mbhele.

The body of Hillary Gardee, 28, was found on 3 May in a timber plantation about 40km outside Mbombela days after she was reported missing.

“The scourge of gender-based violence and the deaths of many women in our country, such as Uyinene Mrwetyana, Zolile Khumalo, Tshegofatso Pule, Nosicelo Mtembeni, and, recently Hillary Gardee, necessitated the urgent need for this technology.

“The current president has referred to the GBVF scourge as a second pandemic. We then created this tool so that people, particularly the vulnerable groups in our country, can be safe at all times.”

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He said an app of this nature was highly important in a country that is riddled with crime.

“With almost every South African using a smartphone, the smart thing to do was to create a mobile app designed to provide personal safety for everyone needing the freedom to live without fear, in a society gripped by crime,” said Mbhele.

As an app on your phone, Eyerus enables you to indicate how safe or unsafe you feel in your current surroundings through the use of four safety status modes.

“The app consists of four safety modes simulating a robot with an additional blue colour,” said Mbele.

Eyerus safety app. Supplied image.

“The green alert mode indicates you are safe and all is well. When you feel your safety is potentially being compromised you can escalate the alert mode according to the severity of your situation. By simply shaking your phone Eyerus automatically activates the amber alert mode which triggers live audio streaming to a secured cloud.

“You can activate the amber alert mode in any situation where you feel uneasy and intimidated. When you find yourself in further escalated danger, you can turn on the red alert mode which switches on your front and back cameras, live streams the footage to a secured cloud while alerting your pre-assigned guardians that you would have loaded during the registration phase. At this point, Eyerus also reveals your location to your guardians.”

Should the situation not de-escalate, you can activate the blue alert mode, said Mbhele.

“This mode dispatches private security services to your location while also sharing the footage with your guardians.”

Eyerus safety app. Supplied image.

“We are connected to a network of 170 security service providers with over 5 400 boots on the ground, covering all nine provinces in South Africa, allowing us the response times of five to eight minutes in urban areas, and slightly longer in the outskirts.”

With no signs of any decrease in gender-based violence crimes in South Africa, Mbhele said an app of this nature was imperative.

“Contact crimes such as assaults, rape, murder and robberies, are some of the crimes that Eyerus can help against. People are able to instantly alert their guardians as well as private security if they find themselves in unsafe situations.”

Eyerus safety app. Supplied image.

“Guardians and private security are then able to see what is going on where the victim is and know exactly where the situation is taking place, as the app gives them a live location whenever Red and Blue Alert Modes are activated. This is also stored in a secured cloud for possible future use and as evidence in court.”

He said the app will also assist in helping victims report crimes such as gender-based violence, rape, and other sexually violent crimes.

“Before we started developing Eyerus we did a survey in which we wanted to find out why crimes such as GBV, rape, and other sexual violence, go unreported. We interviewed 2 604 women who were all survivors of GBV. Almost half of them (48.7%) said they didn’t report cases due to lack of evidence.

“This result, and other research we did, gave us an insight as to how important is having evidence for the victims to have confidence in reporting cases to the police. Over and above that, we wanted to give people a tool to use during the incident, while facing perpetrators, to swiftly call for help. Red and Blue Alert Modes allow people to alert both their guardians as well as private security to respond while the crime is taking place or even before it does.

“These features also allow for investigators to know where to look and find crucial evidence at crime scenes before it is contaminated.”

The app, which currently has over 2 000 downloads, is free on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

“With regard to data, we are in conversations with network service providers to zero-rate the app, meaning allowing Eyerus to work even when the user has no data. Our view is Eyerus is a life-saving tool which should be available to everyone regardless of whether they have data or not.

“These conversations are still ongoing and hopefully we can soon twist their arms to see the importance of this safety app being zero-rated.”

But just how easy is the app to use when a user is in a dangerous situation?

Mbhele says while the app is fairly easy to use, users, need to become acquainted with the app.

Eyerus safety app. Supplied image.

“We developed the four main features simulating a robot with an additional blue colour.

Green means you’re safe; amber/yellow is for those situations where you feel uneasy and intimidated; red is for when you’re in escalated danger and finally blue immediately dispatches private security. So, whatever the situation, you just press the button relevant to your situation and the action you want to take.

The app also has several unique features including a Check-In feature as well as a Dead Man Trigger Feature, as well as live streaming of audio and footage to a secured cloud.

“Live streaming of audio and footage to a secured cloud is one of the unique features, therefore the evidence is not stored on the device. Should the perpetrator destroy or confiscate your phone, you are still able to access the evidence.

“Further features such as ‘Check-in’ allow Eyerus to look after you even during those vulnerable moments. You can determine how long you want Eyerus to keep watch over you. If you do not check-in within your predetermined time frame, Eyerus will automatically escalate the situation on your behalf. It will simultaneously alert your guardians to your potential danger and trigger blue alert mode.

“Another unique feature of Eyerus is the Dead-Man Trigger; This feature is designed for those unpredictable moments one feels highly exposed i.e. walking from your office building to your car alone at night. Simply place your finger on the 10-second countdown trigger and once released, the countdown begins. Should you not enter your unique code, Eyerus will escalate to blue alert mode, which automatically dispatches private security and activates live streaming.”

Speaking about the challenges of developing such a unique app, Mbhele said he and his team faced numerous challenges when developing the app.

“One of the biggest challenges that we face as black businesses is funding of ideas. We even face greater barriers when we want to develop the best of the best, therefore requiring the best talent which doesn’t come cheap.

“We also wanted to create something new that has never been done before. Eyerus was developed using existing technologies, however these technologies have never been smartly and uniquely packaged to fight crime the way we did creating this App. Eyerus boasts an International Patent. Meaning there is no other app like it in the world.

“Further challenges came when additional funding was required to consult with attorneys to ensure that we are compliant with all the relevant legislation in our country, including the POPI Act. We went to great lengths to ensure that personal information and other sensitive data stored in Eyerus is protected and therefore we did a Penetration Test using SA’s top-ranked hackers.

“Eyerus users can be assured that their personal information stored on Eyerus is safe and secure.”

Eyerus is available for download on the Apple App Store, Google Play and is also coming soon to the Huawei App Store.

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