SA-made shack fire detector on its way to compete in Swiss startup competition


The Cape Town shack fires that broke out on New Year’s day in 2013, displacing thousands of Khayelitsha residents, have inspired a group of young South African engineers to come up with a solution.

Meet Lumkani, the innovative startup that has created a device to curb the scourge of fires in urban informal settlements.

And this February, the Lumkani team of six (David Gluckman, Francois Petousis, Emily Vining, Paul Mesarcik, Samuel Ginsberg and Max Basler) will be jetting off to Geneva, Switzerland to take part in the Seedstars World global competition after competing in and winning the South African regional leg last July.

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htxt.africa spoke to the Lumkani team to find out more about their inspiring startup and the upcoming Seedstars World competition:

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“The key to our success is our diverse perspectives, backgrounds, training and experience which come together to tackle a very significant yet avoidable social challenge,” says Gluckman. “Our first product which has been sold and installed in 850 households is an innovative fire detector designed to decrease shack fires and their spread therefore mitigating the loss of life and property in slums across the globe.”

And while Lumkani says they’re honoured to be finalists at Seedstars World, winning isn’t their primary focus at the moment.

“We have a working product and we have customers who are buying the product – that’s just about as much validation as we need to continue what we are doing, all the while being incredibly attentive to the needs of our customers and being agile to respond. Winning the competition will give us much needed international media attention with the possibility of future funding. But right now we are at the coal-face working hard to deliver exceptional products and services for our customers,” explains Gluckman.

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The Lumkani Fire Detection device.

The Lumkani is essentially a networked heat-detector. Unlike other alarm systems which detect smoke and then fire, Lumkani has developed an early warning system which uses rate-of rise of temperature technology to accurately measure the incidence of dangerous fires and therefore limit the occurrence of false alarms.

“This early warning detection system has its roots in an Engineering Honours thesis of Francois Petousis conducted at the University of Cape Town. We launched the Version 1 of the device on the 21st November 2014,” says Gluckman.

So far, Lumkani detectors have been deployed in three different communities across the City of Cape Town Municipality.

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Lumkani aims to sell the fire detectors to government, international donor agencies, NGOs and shack-dwellers in high-density townships in South Africa and across the globe to reach as many communities as possible and (hopefully) mitigate the loss of life and property caused by shack fires.

The detector is currently directly sold to customers for R100 – R110,  but the Lumkani team believes that they can get this down further if they can find backing from corporate CSI projects. A large order would help reduce costs, and in turn savings could be passed on to regular customers.

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