In response to the frequent and often fatal occurrence of fires in our informal settlements, a group of graduates from the University of Cape Town (UCT) have developed a low cost fire detection and alert system that provides communities with information and early warning in the event of a fire.
David Gluckman, Director at Lumkani Fire Detection says the original concept was derived from a thesis assignment in the electrical engineering faculty, which required them to design affordable fire detection technology. He says that the concept was further motivated after the fires that destroyed Khayelitsha shack dwellings in 2013.
What really spurred us on were the massive shack fires that happened on New Year’s day of 2013 in Khayelitsha. Three separate fires devastated households and left five thousand people homeless. And that is really what got our multi-disciplinary team going on the process.
Two layers of design innovation
Gluckman says the main design challenge in developing the device was the fact that most cooking, lighting and heating in informal settlements is all smoke-based, which meant that smoke detector technology was not a viable option for them.
Rate of rise of temperature
The detection system works, at the first level, by detecting the rate of rise of temperature. The device is calibrated to sense dangerous fire by rapid increases in temperature. In the case of rapid heat increase, the device sets off an alarm.
The device, at a secondary level, is networked with other devices. Gluckman explains that they are all connected by a radio frequency. If there is a fire in one informal settlement all other homes, within a 60 meter radius, will also have their alarms set off.
It is specifically addressing the velocity at which fires spread in informal settlements, because of the density and the flammable building materials. It creates a community wide alert, and we give people what has been previously missing in this situation; which is early warning and information. We want to mitigate the loss of life and property.
How to help
1 200 devices have been sold since their launch in December of last year, and within two weeks of installing the first units in Khayelitsha, Gluckman says that the first fire was detected; helping prevent a disaster scale scenario.
He says there are currently 6 shareholders in the business who have contributed their energies and equity into the business. Though they are not looking for investment at the moment, Lumkani are running a crowd-funding campaign for South Africans to support. The proceeds will go towards the purchasing and installation of 3 000 more of these devices across the country this year.
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Listen to the full conversation on CapeTalk's Breakfast with Kieno Kammies: