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Where there’s smoke, there might not be fire, so this device detects heat instead

Thousands were left homeless and several people died on January 1, 2013, after shacks and other makeshift housing caught fire in Cape Town’s crowded slum of Khayelitsha. The devastation caused by the fire inspired David Gluckman to create Lumkani.

It’s not a smoke detector but a heat detector. The distinction is important in countries like South Africa, where family members cook with open flames or use kerosene lamps for warmth and light. A traditional smoke detector might give constant false alarms, rendering it next to useless, even as fires remain a major threat to these communities. The shacks are often built of flammable materials and are in close proximity to one another, meaning if one goes up, others likely will as well.

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Lumkani HEat Detector Smoke AlarmThe heat detector instead senses when the temperature rises. In the event of a fire, the battery-operated Lumkani goes off, hopefully while the blaze is small enough for family members to put out. After 20 seconds, it uses its mesh network to send signals to other devices, which are connected through radio frequency, within about a 200-foot radius.

This means neighbors have time to protect themselves and their belongings, should the fire spread. To distinguish between a fire in your home and someone else’s, the device uses different beeping sounds. In the future, Lumkani hopes to use the device’s GPS coordinates to send the fire’s location to the fire department.

The device has won several awards, including the People’s Award at the Global Social Venture Competition. Lumkani recently completed a successful Indiegogo campaign, garnering over $96,000, about twice what it was hoping to raise. For $20, pledgers could both buy their own detector and send one to a home in South Africa. The Lumkani devices should ship in November of this year, according to the company’s timeline.