Fires pose an extreme threat to slums, especially in South Africa. The City of Cape Town recently reported in a press release that between 2015 and 2016 there were 717 fires in slums, killing 32 people.
One of the most devastating fires to strike a slum occurred on Jan. 1, 2013 in the southwestern township of Khayelitsha. According to an article published by CNN, when the flames were finally extinguished, it was discovered that 800 homes were destroyed and as many as five people were killed.
Francois Petousis, an electrical engineering student at the University of Cape Town, along with five co-founders has invented a solution to this ever-growing issue. Lumkani, which translates to “be careful” in the South African language Xhosa, is the name of the team’s revolutionary heat-detecting mechanism.
In most slums or informal settlements, people cook and heat their homes using fire, which inevitably creates smoke. Due to this, Lumkani does not use standard smoke detection technology, it instead tracks how quickly heat rises in a room.
Fires are so destructive in slums because the homes are built close together, which allows the flames to spread quickly. According to Lumkani’s website, all devices that are within a 60-meter radius of a detected fire will ring in unison. This gives members of the community additional time to extinguish the fire or escape if it is spreading too quickly.
Recently, Lumkani developed new instruments that monitor the connectivity of devices and send text messages to nearby residents in the event of a fire. On their website, the start-up reported that they have distributed more than 7000 detectors since November 2014.
Lumkani has won numerous awards, including Global Innovation through Science and Technology’s competition for best start-up at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2014 and the overall prize for the Comfortable Home category at the Better Living Challenge 2014.
Since its launch, Lumkani devices have stopped the spread of numerous fires in South African slums. In the future, Lumkani plans to expand its market to the rest of Africa and Southeast Asia.
– Liam Travers