Innovations from Africa

Shack fires pose a huge threat, both to the lives of people in informal settlements, but also to their possessions that are usually completely destroyed due to the rapid spread of these fires. This problem is encountered not only in South Africa, but also in other high density urban informal settlements around the world.

Lumkani is an early-warning fire detection system for informal settlements. The small blue devices consist of heat detectors for individual homes which are networked with radio frequency and centralised units. When heat is detected, the mesh network is triggered, sending SMSes with GPS locations to community leaders and the local fire department, alerting them of danger.

Lumkani is the brainchild of Francois Petousis and UCT engineering lecturer Samuel Ginsberg. They were later joined by Paul Mesarcik, David Gluckman, Max Basle and Emily Vining, who are Lumkani’s project management and community engagement directors.  

The difference between a Lumkani unit and other smoke detectors is that Lumkani will only ring if the temperature of the room increases rapidly, and not when smoke is released through ordinary open-flame cooking done indoors.