comscore
News

Meet Manisha Mohan, who stands at the intersection of technology and the fight against sexual assault

Manisha Mohan, a research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has developed projects that use technology to curb sexual assault in the society.

manisha-mohan-MIT-TEDxgateway

Highlights

  • Manisha Mohan is a second-year master’s student in the Living Mobile group at the MIT Media Lab.

  • Her research interests include wearable technology for safety and security and biomaterials science for wearables.

  • She has focuses on developing products, which explore on-body safety via the integration of wearables into users’ existing clothing.

Sexual assault, in its numerous forms have taken over the world. As heinous a crime it is, in every sense of it, it’s not restricted to India. In fact, the entire world is impacted by this troubling menace. It’s hard to not take notice of the stories around sexual assault and abuse that crop up each day in popular media from across the globe. While the rest of us would shrug our shoulders in helplessness, Manisha Mohan decided to do something about it.

Mohan, an Indian researcher at MIT, was one of the speakers at the eighth edition of TEDxGateway, which was held in Mumbai. She spoke about ways to fight various forms of sexual violence in our society. She’s developed three products, aimed at just that.

Tech innovation that detects inappropriate behavior

Mohan has developed Intrepid, a wearable sensor that detects when someone inappropriately touches a person, and sends of notification on the smartphones in situation of a mishap. Another project by her is called Cultural Lens, a Microsoft HoloLens application that reverses traditional gender responsibilities around clothing and personal appearance. Then there is CAPS, another wearable that blows out foul smells when groped on, and ChromoSkin, a dynamic color-changing makeup system that gives the wearer ability to alter seamlessly their appearance.

via GIPHY

While they have different applications, all these projects aim at one thing and that is to curb assaults in the society. But what are these products, how does she see them being used in the society, I asked many such questions to Manisha Mohan, and here’s what she had to say about it.

Cultural Lens is not just a project, but a mockery of the social standards. Besides its potential as a consumer product, could these products be used in any other way?

Definitely that’s the actual aim of the project. Cultural lens isn’t a product which we aim to sell a technology we want to be marketed. It is an educational tool, and if a tool has to be used in the institutional senses, it should be incorporated as an educational utility to educate people around understanding their limitations and giving other people their space.

via GIPHY

While the idea is brilliant, how do you see the product being used?

I don’t see it as a product in any way, it is an educational design project which is more focused on integrating today’s technology to educate people with the best and challenge the traditional mindset of humans.

Despite such projects solving some of the biggest issues in society, why are they never accepted in the mainstream market?

There are two reasons behind it, one of them is that there is certainly a gap between how researchers think and how social scientists think, especially how they think about these products and how the mainstream market works, there is a gap between that.

We haven’t been able to come to consensus where these manufacturing firms have realized that they need to drop the cost of these products, and we don’t aim for profit when we talk about these products because security is not something that needs to be sold, it is a birth right of every person. We have come in times when we need additional layers to ensure that we are safe and sound but I think that’s where there is a rift and we need to bridge it however possible. I think lowering down the cost of production is certainly going to benefit that kind of a process.

Another very big issue around wearable technologies incorporated in the mainstream markets is, especially in India, lot of people have a predefined notion around how a device on their body or their clothing is going to behave, people still feel very unsafe about technologies on their body. So that’s one of the issues with technologies especially wearable technologies, because it has batteries and we haven’t really found a way how to ease that issue but then it is one of those issues, which people are really concerned about, that they don’t feel very comfortable with.

I know people are comfortable with technologies and batteries and phone cases but then having something on body is yet a concern and I think we will be able to come around it with time, when cell phones came in the beginning, they weren’t either accepted the way they are being accepted now, so I think it is just the initial discomfort which would ease out as everything irons.

Is foul smell in CAPS enough to keep away a rapist?

The point is that these smells are not just foul smells, they smell very good sometimes but the point is they have an adverse effect on the neurological system. So, they directly hit to the olfactory bulb in your brain and the hippocampus in particular to ensure that you start feeling giddy and nauseous and you don’t feel sexually aroused, that’s the area of the brain, which we target. So, there are parts of the brain, which help in sexual arousal and captures the products which odors compounds, which we release, we focus on reducing the sexual arousal.

How do you plan to fragment the market for Cultural Lens considering Hololens’ market isn’t too big in itself?

So cultural lens has nothing to do with the market of hollow lens or any other market. We would like it not to be a mainstream product ever. It’s a designed project and it should be considered a design project, just trying to explain people that what we are dealing with right now in our society is challenging and I hope that when people look at this they start questioning themselves and try to answer that question that what are we trying to imply, what are we trying to do in our society, should we really leash on to those old age traditions or should we start walking forward because what if we experience those things.

How do you see these products being used in the society? How do you think they can become mainstream?

I would want none of the products to become mainstream. I hope that people gradually learn how to behave in public setting, what to expect from other people and to give space to other people. If at all in this situation we really have to make anything mainstream, I would definitely realize that a lot of people want Intrepid, but there are a lot of people who do not feel the need for it and I think Intrepid just needs to address people who really need it, to help them overcome that sexual harassment in any form. It is to me not a cure but a medication to prevent damage.

  • Published Date: February 6, 2018 8:40 AM IST