Deadly fires in overcrowded slums in South Africa could soon be a thing of the past thanks to an invention by a Cape Town University student that’s designed to protect people living in shantytown neighborhoods. According to CNN, the small heat detector known as Lumkani, was created by Francois Petousis and five of his electrical engineering classmates, to address the problem of dangerous slum fires. When installed in a kitchen, Lumkani measures any rise in temperature inside the room and adjusts accordingly, only sounding the alarm when room temperatures reach levels associated with dangerous fires.
Lumkani uses a GPS system to send neighborhood alerts via SMS, informing people when and where there’s a fire. The platform also allows people to send text message describing the seriousness of a fire to local authorities registered on Lumkani.
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Since 2014, Lumkani has distributed over 7,000 devices to slums across South Africa, including Khayelitsha, where Lumkani Managing Director and co-founder David Gluckman says they have prevented two major fires.
Gluckman told CNN that they are planning to expand to other parts of Africa and East Asia, as they strive to avert more fires.
— Lumkani (@LumkaniFire) May 5, 2016
The company has won several awards, including being voted the best start-up in 2014’s Global Innovation Through Science & Technology competition.
In 2015, Lumkani distributed 900 devices to different informal settlements in South Africa through a special program funded by the International Red Cross, dubbed Fire Sensors Initiative.
While many South Africans have welcomed the technology, a section of leaders remain cynical, arguing that government funds should be used to get people out of slums instead of trying to improve them.
A member of the Mayoral Committee for Safety and Security in Cape Town, Alderman JP Smith, told CNN that, “You can’t spend endless money on making people’s lives more tolerable, you have to migrate them to proper formal housing, which removes much of the crisis.”
Currently, South Africa has at least ten major slums, the majority of which are located in major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, and Rustenburg.