Lumkani: The Little Blue Box that Could Save Thousands of Homes

Lumkani is a social enterprise that aims to create social impact by improving the safety and security of individuals living in informal settlements using technology-based early warning systems. Fires remain one of the most common problems facing urban informal settlements in South Africa and across the globe. These fires often break out due to a lack of electricity and the need to utilise alternative methods of cooking, heating and lighting which can be harder to control.

The density of informal settlements enables flames to spread rapidly from dwelling to dwelling, meaning that a practical fire prevention system would have to be communal rather than individual. Recognising this, Lumkani saw an opportunity to help reduce the damage caused by shack fires in townships by creating an early-warning alarm system.

The small blue box detector created by Lumkani (which means “beware” in isiXhosa) can accurately measure the incidence of dangerous fires – and reduce false alarms – using rate-of-rise temperature technology. Lumkani has been designed in such a way that all devices within a 60-metre radius of the fire warning will ring together.

The idea behind this revolutionary device was born in 2012 when Samuel Ginsberg, an electrical engineering professor, asked his students at the University of Cape Town to come up with an affordable alarm system for shack dwellers. It was François Patousis who invented a compact device to sense a rapid rise in heat rather than smoke which is often created by open fires intended for cooking, heating and lighting.

When the device detects a fire, it beeps for 20 seconds before triggering all alarms within close proximity to the threat. The central device is able to send text messages to residents and GPS coordinates to the fire department when danger occurs. Since November in 2014, Lumkani has distributed detectors to over 7000 households.

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