We all woke up to the horrific news that yet another lady had suffered the ignominy of having her dignity affronted in New Delhi. This time, it seems to be worse because it happened in a service provided by Uber, the taxi service that has taken the world by storm. Uber promises a safe ride because it apparently runs a thorough background check on its drivers, including their background and credentials.
Uber has disrupted the world of taxi services not because of an innovation in technology, but because of a disruption in the business model. The only technology that they have leveraged understands the location of the person, done through the user downloading the Uber application, which broadcasts the location of the person, and understanding the location of the closest taxi, done by the taxi driver broadcasting his or her location by downloading the Uber application. Uber simply directs the closest taxi to the person who needs one. The taxi otherwise would never know where the next customer was and vice versa.
The key question here is how we can leverage technology to potentially make human beings safer when they use such services. Is there something Uber can do? Is there something that the customer can do or is there something that a technology solution can provide to make customers safer?
The answer actually lies in the technology that Uber is using – location tracking. When a customer seeks a taxi it tells Uber where it wants to go. Two data points are provided at this point – where the customer is, say point A, and where the customer wishes to go, say point B. There are a limited number of routes from point A to point B and the route traverses a defined path. Using another technology embedded in location tracking called geo-fencing (the ability to create a digital perimeter around an object, place or thing) it is easy to create a perimeter of say 500 meters around the taxi as it moves from point A to point B. If the taxi moves out of this geo-fence, it can trigger an automated trigger, a call, a SMS, an email to a person you trust or even the police. When this alert is triggered, the alert would provide information about the breach of the perimeter and also the location of the breach. The police or a close friend can then use the very technology that is enabling Uber in the first place, to send the closest friend or police van to track the taxi. Keep in mind that the taxi / customer would be continuously broadcasting their location so tracking them would be extremely easy.
There are no silver bullets but any effort that can make our citizens safer is a must have, not a nice to have.