For the developed world, cooking fires might not seem like that big of a threat. But for those living in places of poor, dense populations, cooking fires are a real issue as most still make meals using open flames. Such was the case on New Year's Day 2013 in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town, South Africa, where hundreds of homes were destroyed and several people were killed after a cooking fire engulfed the town.
Local students have created a device called Lumkani, which provides fire detection at a low cost. What originally began as a university project, the device registers how quickly heat is rising to detect if there is a risk of fire. It also connects to similar devices nearby to alert neighbors that they may need to intervene. This would create a network where communities can work together to keep the threat of cooking fires low.
"The critical challenge is inebriation. People have been cooking, and they fall asleep and don't wake up when there's a fire," David Gluckman, who worked on the project, told Fast Company.
Smoke alarms don't serve as a viable solution, since cooking on sooty flames will regularly set them off.
"The trick with this kind of disaster is early warning. The earlier people know, the more lives are saved and the less stuff is destroyed," Gluckman said. "There are tons of cases where neighbors tried to get to a fire but arrived too late. If it's too late for the neighbor, it's probably too late for the person inside as well."
The devices work at a range of about 66 feet with the help of radio frequency technology. Each device links to others in a series to create a wider safety net.
"It offers both personal and community protection," Gluckman said. "Our strategy is to find ways to subsidize the device through corporate and public partnerships, so we can drive the price further down."
Lumkani is expected to start selling in October for 90 Rand, which is about $8.30. They have already pre-sold 2,000 units in the Cape Town area and hope to expand to other areas.
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