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Lumkani: Saving South African lives - Blog

Lumkani: Saving South African lives

South Africans are many things, but with the number of start-ups that have been launched in recent years, it’s easy to see how “enterprising” is fast becoming an accurate way of describing them. More and more aspiring entrepreneurs are attempting to make their mark in South Africa’s burgeoning entrepreneurial market, many of who are driven by their need to make a difference in society and help their fellow brethren – and Lumkani is one such start-up.

South Africans are many things, but with the number of start-ups that have been launched in recent years, it’s easy to see how “enterprising” is fast becoming an accurate way of describing them. More and more aspiring entrepreneurs are attempting to make their mark in South Africa’s burgeoning entrepreneurial market, many of who are driven by their need to make a difference in society and help their fellow brethren – and Lumkani is one such start-up. We take a closer look at this social initiative and how it’s attempting to save lives, not just in South Africa, but in other parts of the world as well.

A harsh reality

While conducting research for his Honours thesis in engineering, co-founder Francois Petousis found the devastating 2013 fire in Khayelitsha (in which more than 4000 people were left homeless) to have an acceleratory effect on his study. The unfortunate reality that many members of urban informal settlements face is that the outbreak of a fire can have devastating effects on the entire community. This is mainly because of how densely packed the settlements tend to be, and as a result, fires spread rapidly and leave a trail of damage in their wake. The 2013 fire further highlighted the great need for a solution that would create a social impact and finally address the challenge of shack fires.

The birth of Lumkani

Together with UCT electrical engineering lecturer Samuel Ginsberg, Petousis founded Lumkani, after which they were soon joined by other team members, including the start-up’s director, David Gluckman. Their mission was to design an affordable product that could function as an early-warning system in the hopes of increasing the chances of safety for informal settlement community members when fires break out. Beyond the issue of safety, there was also the need to help reduce the amount of fire-damage caused.

How does the technology work?

The Lumkani early-warning system is based on heat detection technology, as opposed to the traditional smoke detector. This is because many lighting, cooking and heating methods used by people in informal settlements produce smoke. Lumkani’s rate-of-rise of temperature technology was designed to monitor the temperature within a home, resulting in an alarm being triggered when the temperature becomes alarmingly high. The main goal here is to alert people earlier when a fire breaks out, giving them enough time to get to safety and call for help. Grappling with the core issues surrounding settlement fires, Petousis and his team acknowledged that it went beyond just a single shack and extended to the entire community. In short, in order to tackle this problem, there was a need for a communal alert. The answer: detectors that are networked within a 60 metre radius. This means that when one alarm is triggered, all the subsequent devices within its radius will ring as well, leading to a community-wide response to the danger. This makes for far more rapid detection, as well as faster and more effective responses, all of which mean less damage. The system also stores GPS co-ordinates and when an alarm is triggered, text messages are sent off to the affected members.

Looking forwards

The Lumkani team is now working on the next phase, which involves an alarm sending off GPS co-ordinates to emergency services – something which aims to reduce response time and limit the amount of damage by dealing with a fire before it becomes unmanageable. The start-up also has its sights set on the globe, where it hopes to bring about change in areas beyond South Africa.

In the meantime, since November 2014, Lumkani has made its way into many communities and offers close to 2000 households a fighting chance of beating devastating fires. It walked away with the prize for the best start-up in Global Innovation through Science and Technology at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in 2014, and has recently won the South African leg of Chivas Regal’s Win the Right Way competition. It will now join 20 other entrepreneurs from around the world in Silicon Valley for a mentorship programme later this year, where it stands the chance of winning $1 million. Good things have already been achieved, but great things are yet to come for this amazing South African start-up.

Trust Sage One’s effective software to be by your side as you make your entrepreneurial dreams become a reality.

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