There is a big problem which prevents widespread adoption of smoke detectors in many informal settlements around the globe. Sure, conventional detectors might appear quite costly to the poor people usually inhabiting the densely populated shack areas, but the real issue is that the dwellers often rely on fossil fuels and open fires for both cooking and lighting. This usage sets of ordinary smoke detectors, and means that traditional detection devices do not fit in under the circumstances, making the ever-present danger of fire even harder to prevent. Thankfully, some bright students are now taking on this problem with a quite ingenious solution that has received a lot of attention on and outside the African continent.
The South African social enterprise Lumkani is currently pioneering a new low-cost fire protection system, an early warning system to reduce the damage and destruction caused by the spread of shack/slum fires in the urban informal settlements that are quite widespread across Africa and other parts of the world. Around our globe, plenty of fires take hold in poor, densely populated places every year, because people living there still cook with open flames. It was this danger that a group of local students looked to address, when they created the new solution.
The founder, named Francois Petousis, is a student at the University of Cape Town Business School and heads a team of six people at Lumkani. What started as a school project has already begun gathering some commercial traction, and half a year ago when the project was revealed they instantly got a pre-order for 2,000 units. According to All Africa, shack fires break out each day in the entrepreneurs’ home country, and many people suffer permanent injuries or even death, because of them. In South Africa alone, about 1,300 deaths occur each year as a result of burn injuries. Last year was marked by a big fire in the Kya Sands Township, where 2,000 people were left homeless. Hopefully Lumkani’s initiative can prevent similar large-scale destruction by deployment of its early-warning system. Here is the story behind the altruistic solution:
So what is so special with the solution from Lumkani, apart from that it is affordable? Well, for starters and as the video shows, the device is not triggered by controlled fires, but reacts only to rapid increases in heat. Many cooking, lighting and heating methods used by people living in informal settlements produce smoke. This is the reason Lumkani devices use rate-of rise of temperature technology to accurately measure the incidence of dangerous fires and limit the occurrence of false alarms. Moreover, density is a challenge all urban informal settlements share, which is a risk factor that enables the rapid spread of fires. The company’s take on this challenge is pretty clever:
Each installed device can communicate with the other nearby units in the community, so if you do not respond to an alarm in your shack within 20 seconds, the blue box in the next shack will begin to sound and so on. This networked solution is connecting all devices within a 60-metre radius. In the event of a fire, devices within this range will ring together, creating a community-wide response to the danger. This buys time for communities to become proactive in rapidly spreading fire risk situations. If this concept was not crystal clear, study the picture below and just maybe you’ll grasp the idea.
According to Cape Times, the project took about two years to complete, with several versions created to ensure the device was loud, reliable and long lasting. Now, the device is powered by a sing AA battery which can last for up to two years. The detector costs $8 to buy, which might not sound very expensive, but with local subsidies the price comes down even further, to merely $2 per unit for the shack dwellers, as reported by TakePart.com. This is what the small Lumkani detection device looks like:
Lumkani has won an array of awards all around the world, so it is not running short of recognition. Part of Lumkani’s appeal lies in that nobody else have offered an effective solution to this common problem – frankly, there is no competition with regards to this global issue. If more entrepreneurs would aim their efforts toward betterment for poorer communities and not only be developing gaming apps for the crowded mobile marketplaces, they might find them self in a similar “everybody-wins” situation one day or the other. We bet it feels good for Lumkani and its smart fire detector to make a difference and save some lives while they are prospering.