Zuko Mand­lakazi

FOUNDER OF SENSO

Sunday Times - - Gaming -

Part of be­ing a suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur in­volves spot­ting a gap in the mar­ket and plug­ging it with a clever so­lu­tion. This is ex­actly what Eastern Cape na­tive Zuko Mand­lakazi has done with Senso, a wear­able bit of gad­getry that helps the deaf nav­i­gate the world.

How does it work?

Senso is fo­cused on con­nect­ing peo­ple with peo­ple, and peo­ple with life-sav­ing sounds. We do this through our flag­ship de­vice, a wrist­band that in­ter­prets sounds as vi­bra­tion and colour-coded LED lights.

How it works is that the user co-or­di­nates five spe­cific ev­ery­day life sounds that are im­por­tant, to dif­fer­ent LED colours. For ex­am­ple, the sound made by a baby when it wakes up could be pink, the sound made by a safety evac­u­a­tion alarm would be red, the sound made by a door be­ing knocked or an in­ter­com ring­ing could be pur­ple and any forced en­try sound, typ­i­cally the sound of an in­truder, could light up green.

When a baby wakes up and cries, the wrist­band de­tects that sound and trans­lates it into vi­bra­tion, mak­ing the LED light on the wear­able band light up pink. The same ap­plies for the other sounds.

In­spi­ra­tion for the idea?

Grow­ing up in the ru­ral Eastern Cape, I saw how the com­mu­nity treated my aunt who is hard of hearing and lipreads to un­der­stand what peo­ple around her are say­ing. Fam­ily and com­mu­nity mem­bers made an ef­fort to en­sure that she was taken care of, but when she came to Gaut­eng I wor­ried. What if the build­ing she was stay­ing in caught fire while she was alone?

Big­gest chal­lenges in de­vel­op­ing Senso?

Scarcity of skills. Com­pet­ing with large com­pa­nies to at­tract the same skills in the job mar­ket. And data — ac­cess­ing in­for­ma­tion about deaf­ness and those hard of hearing in African coun­tries has been dif­fi­cult. With the ex­cep­tion of a few coun­tries, in­clud­ing South Africa, records and sta­tis­tics are old and it’s chal­leng­ing try­ing to con­nect with NGOs work­ing in deaf com­mu­ni­ties.

The next five years?

I see Senso be­com­ing a global game-changer, a de­vice ac­ces­si­ble to the poor­est of the poor in need of sound as­sist de­vices.

We haven’t launched yet, but we’ve con­ducted fo­cus groups and held ex­hi­bi­tions in a num­ber of coun­tries. We hope to launch later this year.

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