Within six months 717 shack fires killed 32 people and damaged the houses of 4,000 people only in Cape Town. The company Lumkani deals with a significant problem not only in South Africa but also Worldwide. Informal settlements exist around the world and are home for millions of people. Living in an informal settlement comes along with a major danger which is shack fires. Due to the structural density and a high population shack fires can have a huge negative impact on people’s life. If one shack burns the shacks in the immediate vicinity are likely to burn down as well since they are so close to each other. The homes of many families and all their belongings would be gone and it is a big danger for the residenets. Since fire is used for cooking, lighting and heating the risk of a shack fire is very high. (Eastaugh, 2016)
South African tech start-up and a social enterprise called Lumkani developed a device to solve this worldwide problem. Their vision is “to minimize the loss of life and property caused by fires in slums in South Africa and across the globe.” (Eastaugh, 2016)
The underlying problem
1. 46% of the worlds population is not urbanized
2. In Asia around 30% live in informal settlements
3. In the Caribbean and Latin America around 24%
4. In Africa around 60% (166 Million in sub-Saharan Africa)
5. To total estimated number is around 1 billion people worldwide.
These numbers show that a solution for an early warning system for fires will give safety for a lot of people. But not only safety is the issue also the fire detectors would safe governments, communities and families millions of dollars. (UNhabitat, 2014)
The innovation Lumkani developed
The challenge for the start-up was that a completely new system for smoke detectors is needed since in the cottages lighting, heating and cooking often require open fires. A regular smoke detector would thus be constantly alarming and cannot be used in informal settlements. The approach Lumkani uses is a heat detection technology instead of smoke detection. Their technique is called rate-of-rise of temperature technology. The advantage is that the device is only triggered if there is a rapid and high rise of temperature and is insensitive from smoke which makes sure that the alarm is not triggered when
cooking, heating or lighting with an open fire. In case of a dangerous fire temperatures room temperature rises radically within seconds and the device will be triggered.
Lumkani took it even further and developed a smart system. This idea rose from a comment of a lady living in an informal settlement. She said that “it is as important for me to know about my neighbor’s fire as it is to know about a fire in my home”. All the devices network with all devices within a 60-meter radius. They are constantly communicating using a radio frequency and in case of an alarm within the network every device within the radius of 60-meters’ triggers. In order to differentiate the case of a neighbor’s fire and own fires the device has to different sounds. A long and constant beep means a fire in their own houses and short consecutive beeps signalize a fire in the neighborhood. Furthermore, the device stores GPS data and sends text messages to the affected community. This function allows the affected people to react to the danger before the fire spreads. It also writes text messages to the community members and their vision for the future is to send text messages also to emergency services. (Lumkani, 2017)
What they achieved so far
So far Lumkani was very successful. Since their founding in November 2014 they could distribute 9,000 detectors. After only two weeks after they installed the devices two serious fires were detected and prevented to spread. Furthermore, they won several awards for their innovational start-up. Lumkani not only sells his products to the people directly but also tries to collaborate with governments and NGO´s. In this area, they were also able to record successes. The International Red Cross chose Lumkani as their provider for is Fire Sensors Initiative and with this initiative they distributed 900 devices and did a large-scale market research. (Lumkani & Eastaugh, 2016)
The next step for the start-up is to raise funds and invest this money to conquer the Indian market. A bright future is ahead of Lumkani since they target a huge market with a product that is from substantial need. Millions of people around the world could benefit from the device. Moreover, there is no serious competitor for the South African start-up. Lumkani could make a substantial change worldwide to reduce the number of shack fires.