Safe and sound

Wear­able tech changing the lives of the deaf

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Con­tents - BY PAPI MA­BELE

SOME SOUNDS CAN SOOTHE THE SOUL (think great mu­sic), some can drive you crazy (think yap­ping dog) and some, like a warn­ing toot on a hooter, can save your life. It’s the last cat­e­gory of sound in par­tic­u­lar that both­ered Zuko Mand­lakazi when he tried to get to grips with a close fam­ily mem­ber’s hear­ing dis­abil­ity. Be­ing deaf was bad enough, Mand­lakazi recog­nised, but worse than that was the ap­par­ent lack of a so­lu­tion to address her daily chal­lenges and those of the 360 mil­lion deaf peo­ple world­wide,

That prompted him to start Senso. It’s a tool based on a wrist-mounted wear­able de­vice that picks up sounds and trans­late them into vi­bra­tion and LED light. Senso (pro­nounced sen­sor) pro­vides the con­ve­nience of alert­ing through vi­bra­tion and light in­stead of sound, which can be dis­torted in the pres­ence of other ex­ter­nal noise.

“I just thought, hang on a sec­ond, what’s go­ing to hap­pen when my aunt is old and no longer has the strength to take care of her­self?” says Mand­lakazi.

The de­vice is tailored to its user. It has the abil­ity to alert the user when a set perime­ter in their sur­round­ings has been breached, which then opens the de­vice to be used to mon­i­tor a child’s move­ment or to track a pet or car.

Al­though Zuko has carved out a name for him­self in the startup world with his re­lent­less fo­cus on pro­duc­tiv­ity, syn­chro­ni­sa­tion, mo­bil­ity and ease of ac­cess, the goal for Senso is to give the deaf, es­pe­cially from dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties, ac­cess to world-class so­lu­tions. From this, Zuko has been able to work with the SABS De­sign In­sti­tute, South African Brew­eries and mlab South­ern Africa in de­vel­op­ing the prod­uct and re­fin­ing its tech­ni­cal direc­tion. The De­sign In­sti­tute’s tech­ni­cal and cre­ative in­put sig­nif­i­cantly helped his idea progress.

How­ever, it was through his call-up as fi­nal­ist to the Chivas Re­gal: The Ven­ture Awards that his idea and startup started gain­ing in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. The awards are for promis­ing so­cial en­trepreneurs and so­cial in­no­va­tors who run in­no­va­tive busi­nesses that have a po­ten­tial to cre­ate a pos­i­tive change in the world. Since then, he’s been fea­tured and col­lab­o­rated on nu­mer­ous en­tre­pre­neur­ial and so­cial in­no­va­tion causes world­wide.

For Senso, there are go­ing to be mul­ti­ple chal­lenges. The big­gest one is go­ing to be adop­tion. How can Mand­lakazi and his team con­vince in­vestors, end users and mo­ti­va­tors to these end users that it’s worth their time to im­ple­ment yet an­other new piece of tech­nol­ogy? Al­ready, the mar­ket is in­un­dated with startups try­ing to change the world in one way or an­other, and so far, there haven’t been that many ex­plo­sive suc­cesses. That’s part of the rea­son why Senso had to be a more com­plete pack­age, rather than tack­ling smaller ver­sions of the prob­lem that some apps do.

“There are lots of apps out there – there’s ac­tu­ally a lot of as­sis­tant apps out there; it feels a bit frag­mented.

“We want the de­vice to be able to learn how your brain learns,” Mand­lakazi said. “If your sys­tem is con­tent-ag­nos­tic, we can use neu­ro­science and look at the mo­ti­va­tion of the per­son us­ing it. I felt the need to build the Senso, I looked around and what I un­der­stood was that I needed to build the sys­tem while my aunt is around.”

With the prod­uct now in its fi­nal stages, Senso has man­aged to raise an­other round of fund­ing with Mul­ti­choice and The In­no­va­tion Hub. The fund­ing will en­able Senso to com­plete a mar­ket ready prod­uct, run a pi­lot and com­mer­cialise the prod­uct within Q1 of 2017. PM

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