Meet Tech Lady Bethy Diakabana, the CS student who created a hands-free GPS jacket

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Bethy! Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you’re working on?

Hi! I’m a fourth year computer science student at Wentworth Institute of Technology. I have a passion for emerging technologies pertaining to human computer interaction, machine learning, and wearables. I’m currently working on a couple of projects. One is the Companion Coat, a hands-free GPS jacket and it just received a provisional patent and trademark, as well as Companion Clothing for future navigation wearables. Along with that I’m working on an affordable, artificial intelligence platform that diagnoses Malaria in developing countries. If this algorithm is incorporated in routine tests, the presence of malarial parasite can be detected without the risk of human error or the expenses of robust medical equipment. It was recently recognized by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, and is scheduled for clinical trials in Congo in the fall.

Where did you get the inspiration for your Companion Coat and how did it initially come to life?

It all started during the winter of my senior year. I would commute to school by taking the bus to the train station, and then taking the train to campus. I live in a wooded area where there weren’t many lights, and I would have to walk about a quarter mile to get to the bus stop. During that time I had to switch buses, and I didn’t know how to get to the new bus stop. I had to constantly look at my phone while I was walking. I try to avoid using my phone in areas that are dark, as I’ve heard stories from friends where they have gotten mugged while using their phone.

While I was thinking about solutions, like reaching out to my legislators about street lighting, I also came across a cool photo of a woman with electroluminescent wire on her winter coat. She commented that walking around with onboard lights helped her feel safe at night. Originally I wanted to mod my coat with EL wires or tape as well, but it was expensive, and I wouldn’t have much control over the brightness.

I had leftover sewable LEDs from an older project that I thought about using instead. With those, I could control the brightness to save battery, and I could control the colors with the right tech.

I wondered if it was possible to turn this into a navigation wearable, where people could use the LEDs to gauge their distance, so I decided to mod my own jacket with the leftover LEDs I had, along with 3D printed enclosures to house them.

The first prototype was born, and was in demand by lots of students, especially women students who sometimes didn’t feel safe using their cellphones or Apple watches to navigate Boston either. From there, I knew this had to be a marketable product.

The implications for this project are huge. How do you hope to utilize this technology and this project in the future?

I hope to release a new, unisex design so that everyone feels entitled to this kind of tech. I modified the design from the original post, so that the LEDs are as subtle as possible, but still noticeable in case of situations of distress. There are wearables that do light up already, but none that take safety into account, especially for women who are more at risk. With this technology, I hope to expand this to pins or wristbands — any way that this technology can be affordable and used by many people as possible. My team has a few potential investors lined up, and are currently considering manufacturers.