The problem your project solves

The Coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown have brought the issue of domestic conflict/violence into sharp focus with victims now finding themselves confined 24/7 with their abuser. Some reports suggest there has been a 40% increase in reports of domestic abuse since quarantine began and most charities/authorities are struggling to source sufficient accommodation to cope with the increased demand.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, has reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day. A separate helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse seeking help to change their behaviour has received 25% more calls. The number of people killed in the UK as a result of domestic violence is at its highest level in five years, according to a recent report by the Office for National Statistics. The report revealed that on average 3.3 women a week are murdered as a result of domestic abuse.

We believe this is an unacceptable global societal problem that could benefit from a smart tech solution now and in a post-Covid world too. Flyte seeks to provide an answer to the question a lot of victims ask: "But where would I go?"

Domestic conflict apps do already exist, but our research suggests that none are as immediately effective, easy to use or far-reaching as Flyte is intended to be. We would initially look to launch Flyte in the UK, but see the end goal as being a worldwide rollout with global cultural differences and language support taken into account.

Another problem Flyte addresses is the fact that there could be another major housing market crash due to overleveraged borrowers (particularly in the US) who are likely to default on the multiple properties they've bought for Airbnb rental that are now sitting empty due to the pandemic. If we can put people who are in emergency situations into these properties and pay the owner enough to help with the mortgage repayments, we could help stave off another serious economic meltdown.

The solution you bring to the table (including technical details, architecture, tools used)

Flyte is a progressive web app (PWA) designed to be a closed-loop panic button and one-stop-shop for people needing to flee emergency domestic conflict situations. The app will not require a wi-fi connection.

In the midst of domestic conflict, the app can be used to trigger an alert. If transport is required, a notification will be sent to the nearest Uber/Lyft or private hire vehicle. If accommodation is required, the app will source suitable shelter that can be accessed immediately (based on an AI algorithm) via Airbnb or private property owners who have signed up. Transport and accommodation can be sourced in one hit if required. A notification will also be sent to domestic violence charity Refuge (or similar) to make support workers aware that an incident has occurred so they can follow up.

It is possible to cancel a distress call, but the user will need to enter the PIN they created when registering to ensure the call hasn't been cancelled by the abuser. We will also explore the possibility of an automatic call being made to the police if the phone is shaken violently for several seconds. We will also explore other gesture and voice controls.

Property owners will not be required to authorise access to the property. Pre-authorisation for access to vacant properties will be part of the terms that owners agree to when signing up. The key will need to be accessible via a lockbox or code provided to the victim when they've arrived safely at the property. The owner will receive a notification to say the property has been occupied.

We will incentivise property owners and drivers to provide their services either for free or for a heavily discounted flat rate (e.g. £25 per night) to ensure the people who need this service are able to access it regardless of their financial situation. If payment is required and the victim is unable to cover the cost (or at least make a donation towards it), we would look to partner with local government, charities or payment providers like PayPal, Stripe and Apple Pay to automatically process the payment in the short term (at least for the first night's stay).

If we can agree a rock-bottom rate with the transport and accommodation providers, this cost should be far less than what it costs a charity or authority to provide emergency accommodation, so we're confident of getting this cost covered by someone other than the victim. The annual cost of domestic abuse is estimated to be approximately £70 billion in England and Wales alone.

We would also like to explore the possibility of this app being installed on phone operating systems as standard and/or finding some way to mask or disguise it, so abusers don't become suspicious if they find it installed on the victim's phone. The brand identity has been designed to look like any other app and the name itself was chosen as it doesn't necessarily relate to domestic conflict. It could easily be mistaken for a travel app by the uninitiated. We would also want to switch off GPS/find-my-phone/location services when the app no longer requires GPS to ensure the victim cannot be tracked to the safe location.

The primary goal of Flyte is to get people out of a conflict situation and to a safe haven as quickly as possible. It is in no way intended to be a substitute for calling the police if a crime has been committed.

What you have done during the weekend

We ran a mini-sprint to conceptualise, map the user flow and wireframe the solution. We then created the brand identity, made high-fidelity GUI mockups using InVision and built a representative prototype using InVision Studio. We chose InVision Studio as it allowed us to present our prototype with the desired look and feel. We found the no-code web app builders to be a little too limited for our requirements.

Accessibility was at the forefront of our design decisions as physically impaired and elderly people are part of our primary end-user demographic.

The primary interface is what we're calling the emergency mode interface, where we're looking to gather the least amount of information required to trigger the system and solve the problem, i.e. where are you? This would be worked out via GPS in the first instance or failing that, by the user selecting a saved address or manually entering a new one. The property address will only be revealed to the user once they've confirmed they are out of the house and safe, either in their own car or in the transport that was sent to them. The driver will also need to confirm that they are out of the house and inside their vehicle before the address is revealed.

We will display 'Flyte in Progress' information on an intuitive and familiar map layout where users can track their Uber's location and ETA and/or the property location once they've escaped the conflict.

The secondary, post-emergency interface is where we will gather further information to pass onto a relevant caseworker, i.e. personal details, the nature of the incident, payment information, etc. Once this has been submitted, we will provide useful links to follow-up support services.

There will also be a service provider interface (not yet prototyped) where property owners, drivers, charity partners, social workers, local government representatives, therapists, counsellors and all other relevant stakeholders will be able to register and create an account.

And finally, there is information about Flyte and how it works. We have focussed on prototyping the main app interface and core functionality, but we envisage there also being an accompanying website where users and service providers can create an account (in advance of actually needing the service) and where we can provide further information about Flyte and why users and service providers should register.

All information will be presented in a friendly, reassuring tone of voice, giving users total peace of mind that they're in safe hands and their case will be treated with discretion and professionalism. We want them to be 100% confident that they will receive the help they need.

The solution’s impact on the crisis

Flyte is aimed at getting vulnerable people (i.e. victims of domestic conflict and/or violence who are housebound with their abuser) away from conflict and into safe accommodation as quickly as possible. This will hopefully defuse conflict situations before they escalate to potentially criminal levels, which should ease the burden on the police and already overstretched health services.

One in ten of all offences recorded by police in the UK are domestic abuse-related. It is estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be affected by domestic violence in their lives. This equates to around 2.4 million cases every year. These already-terrifying statistics have seen a sharp increase since the Coronavirus lockdown began.

The secondary impact is economic. By putting into use empty properties that are generating no revenue, we will be helping owners who might be worrying about their ability to make their mortgage repayments (which could lead to domestic conflict situations in its own right). The idea is that properties will be used for one night only as part of an emergency escape plan, but if the tenant has the means to pay and the need is there, a longer stay could be arranged with the owner.

The necessities in order to continue the project

The project would benefit greatly from strategic partnerships with the likes of Airbnb, Uber, PayPal and Refuge, but the project's success does not hinge upon those relationships. We will also need to develop our basic, no-code prototype into a fully functional progressive web app for deployment, which would take between 1–3 months with the right partnerships and adequate resources.

Due to the limited hackathon timeframe, the technical complexity of our proposed solution and because we were starting from scratch, we've simplified the scope of our basic prototype; however, we have some excellent tech/dev partners we can call upon to help us take the project to the next level. We are award-winning design thinkers and UX designers by trade and we can easily assemble a team of experts to bring this product to market.

Lots of questions were raised as part of our initial discovery and prototyping phase, including: How can we ensure the escape process is as fast and safe as possible? How do we ensure the service isn't abused by people looking for free transport and accommodation? How do we encourage victims to break the cycle of abuse and actually use this service to seek help? How can we make the service as discreet (bordering on anonymous) as possible? How can we provide ongoing support to victims to ensure Flyte isn't simply applying a band-aid to the problem?

The next step is for us to continue our discovery phase, consulting with experts in the field and other potential stakeholders to ensure we test our assumptions, answer the questions that have arisen throughout this process and develop our MVP prototype into a tool that's fully fit for purpose. We will need to create an accommodation-matching AI algorithm to ensure we remove victims to locations that are both safe and practical.

Obviously, there is a negative environmental impact from any online platform that receives a large volume of traffic, but we will mitigate this by using sustainable UX design and development practices to ensure Flyte is as energy- and resource-efficient as possible. We would host the web platform with a serverless true cloud provider like Amazon (AWS), who have wind and solar farms and a sustainability report that indicates how much of their infrastructure is powered by renewables. Many AWS regions are using 100% renewable energy and they aim to become 100% renewable globally in the future. See https://aws.amazon.com/about-aws/sustainability/ for further information.

The value of your solution(s) after the crisis

Unfortunately, the domestic conflict problem isn't going to simply go away when Coronavirus has been beaten and lockdown is lifted, so the ongoing need for this solution is self-evident.

We see the short-term use case for this product as being a panic button for getting those in need out of harm's way as quickly and safely as possible, but we're also excited about its long-term potential. We plan to define what type of ongoing support and resources we can provide to help victims deal with their fears, anxieties and other psychological issues/conditioning, breaking the cycle of manipulation, control, coercion and isolation, and moving them onto positive next steps – improving both their mental and physical wellbeing.

We may also introduce a feature that would allow friends, family, doctors, teachers etc. to report suspicious injuries or concerns that could be escalated to the relevant authorities. Victims could also document their injuries/abuses for use in any criminal proceedings arising from these incidents.

We could also introduce a feature allowing victims to notify a friend/family member when an incident has occurred (maybe with a code word or other subtle trigger), but we would need to handle this carefully.

Clearly, domestic conflict/violence is a very serious matter, often a criminal matter, so we'll need to ensure we adhere to the strict guidelines and best practices provided by qualified professionals. A thorough discovery phase will be essential if we're to move Flyte from being a conceptual prototype to a marketable product.

In the long term, we see several extended use cases for Flyte, e.g. child abuse, bullying, rape/sexual assault, abuse of the elderly, etc. Our strategy will be to release a proof-of-concept platform focussed around domestic conflict then see how the platform could evolve to cover other problem areas.

We believe this is a solution the world needs and not just the Corona-affected world. The technology and infrastructure required already exists, so the question is, how badly do we want to solve this problem?

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