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Common Questions

1. How did you come up with the idea of Soterra?

The idea for Soterra was developed in response to an internationally sponsored design and build competition. The competition was founded on the research that over 1/3 women globally are victims of sexual assault, and in the areas where these crimes are highest, there are the fewest solutions for these women to get help.

Given this, we set the goal for our product to be to reach as many of these previously neglected women as possible. Our design was built to specifically reach these previously isolated victims and give them back greater control over their lives.

2. What is the team dynamic like? Is the team only engineers, or cross-disciplinary? How do you work together to make this project happen?

The team is a combination of interdiciplinary students from every year, freshman through senior. As a whole team, we meet about once a week to go over progress updates and make group decisions. The business and technical teams (hardware, services and device) also meet separately throughout the week to work through any isses and make sure deadlines are being met.

3. In your own words, what is a Soterra and why is it so important?

High rates of sexual assault are prevalent everywhere in the world, ye there is no universal solution to get these women help when they need it most. Though we may not be able to change the culture behind the problem, with Soterra, we can give women access tohelp that was never available previously. Soterra will allow them to connect with emergency services or trusted contacts when they need it most and allow them to safely get out of a dangerous situation. Soterra allows them to regain control in a previously helpless situations.

4. How does the product work?

Soterra connects women with help when they need it, whether or not they have a cell phone or an internet connection. When an alert is activated on your Soterra device, the product will broadcast that via bluetooth as far as it can in all directions around you. Any and all devices within this range will receive this information, and then relay it in a broadcast around their location. This relay from node to node continues until the broadcast reaches a smartphone with our app on it. The device then sends the information to that smartphone, which forwards the data to our server, which will then contact the appropriate parties. The product has the ability to either contact emergency services, or contact predetermined contacts. This second setting, what we call a "yellow alert," is programed into the device because in over 80% of the cases of sexual assault, the victim knows their attacker and as a result are hesitant and afraid to contact official authorities.

5. When did the project begin, and how?

We officially registered for the XPRIZE Women's Safety competition last April, which is when the project began for us. After many late nights in Packard Lobby designing and outlining the project, Soterra was created.

6. Did you have any inspirations from other projects when starting yours?

Before Soterra was started, another Lehigh team competed in a separate XPRIZE competition. That competition required the team to build a submarine for ocean exploration. While it was an exciting project, it was not within the scope of what the students were able to do. The project would have costs millions of dollars and was high risk to build. As a result, they started to look for other XPRIZE projects that were within scope, and this Women's Safety project stood out to them. That's when I got involved. I hadn't heard of XPRIZE before but I had lead other teams, and so I was asked to head this project. So while the last project is not direct inspiration, this project was founded as a result of the passion that drove the other project, and as a result of students who wanted to put their talents towards a good cause.

7. What progress have you made since Soterra's inception?

Since April, we have developed an in-depth solution to the problem, submitted a technical report on that solution and made it into the semifinals of the competition. We are one of 21 out of the original 85 to make it to this stage. We are currently in the middle of product development, with the goal of having a fully working product by February.

8. What are your focuses in the development of Soterra?

Soterra is a multifaceted product. Not only do we have the hardware device itself which needs to be able to talk with all other nearby nodes, but we are also building an app for those who want to pair their phone with the device, the entire backend which is what ultimately contacts emergency help, and a platform for police to use to interface with our system.

9. What are your goals for the product and the company?

My highest level goal in this project is to ensure a future for the product. We've spent a huge amount of time building a device we really truly believe in and my goal is ensure that this product makes it into the hands of those who need it. We really do have the ability to make a positive impact in a huge number of lives, and my goal is to make sure that happens.

10. How much does a Soterra cost to produce and how much would you market it for?

As a stipulation for the competition, the device needs to cost under $40 to manufacture. We are well below that mark and are continually working to keep the cost as low and affordable as possible.

11. What is the "LU Ignite" campaign that your team is a part of?

We are using the LU Ignite platform for crowdsourcing. The page allows family, friends and other members of the Lehigh community to learn more about us and donate to our project. The link is below.

12. What is the Anu and Naveen Jain Women's Safety Prize? Are you going to India to present Soterra there?

The Anu and Naveen Jain Women's Safety Prize is an international design and build competition designed to inspire innovation in the women's safety arena. It is an incentivized competition with a prize of 1 million dollars going to the winning team. Our official acceptance into the semifinals as of November means we will be going to India in April to present our solution in front of a panel of judges.

13. What feedback have you gotten for your product?

The best feedback we've gotten so far is from XPRIZE. The fact that we were one of less than 25% of teams to make it into this second round is a huge validation for us. We've also talked with professors, experts specializing in this type of technology and startups to get advice and feedback on our product. All have been really encouraging and helpful in determining the ultimate path we take with this project.

14. How have your studies in the engineering department helped you in beginning this project? What opportunities has the department given you to get to this point?

We have engineers in almost all fields on this project. We have BioEs, CSEs, CEs, EEs, MechEs, ISEs, etc. We really represent the full scope of Lehigh's engineering college and as such have applied a lot of learned knowledge in classes to this project. More specifically, as team lead I have been able to use my background in computer science to effectively communicate with the technical team to ensure they set feasible goals and are on track with the overall schedule.

Team Contacts

Name Class Year Major Team Email
Lena McDonnell 2018 Computer Science Lead
Stefan Gorski 2018 Computer Science Technical
Matthew Ciolino 2018 Mechanical Technical
Chris Szafranski 2018 Computer Engineering Technical
Emily Randolph 2019 IBE ISE Business
Brooke Glassman 2019 Mechanical Technical
Cameron Cipriano 2021 Computer Science Technical
Drew Siedel 2018 Computer Science Technical
Ian Ferguson 2018 Electrical Technical
Jack Cunningham 2021 Computer Science and Business Technical
John Ott 2019 Computer Science and Business Technical
Morgan Schurr 2020 Business (Undeclared) Business
Michael Wu 2020 IBE BioE Business
Marta Kasica-Soltan 2021 Computer Science Technical