Rural inventor's device for the deaf puts him in Africa's top 50

Low-cost gadget aimed at enhancing safety and connectedness

In a world short of inventors, a 33-year-old Cofimvaba man has invented a lifesaving device for deaf people – earning him a spot in the top 50 African innovators’ list.
Zuko Mandlakazi, a Walter Sisulu University accountancy alumnus, invented the Senso, a wrist-wearable device that picks up sounds and communicates them to the wearer through vibrations and colour-coded LED lights.
The wearer can link their top five specific everyday life sounds with LED colour lights.
For example, the sound made by an infant when waking up could be pink, a sound made by a safety evacuation alarm red, a door knock or intercom buzz green and any forced entry or intruder-like sound purple.
The device has three buttons: an on/off switch and two buttons that co-ordinate and pair LED lights with sounds that the wearer wants to be alerted to.
Mandlakazi said the device, which is meant to help deaf people be more present and alert to sounds, was inspired by his aunt, who has always been hard of hearing.
“She lip-reads to understand what people around her are saying. In the family, we’ve always had to talk extremely loud when talking to her.
“When my aunt started visiting me in Gauteng, I realised her condition wasn’t accommodated in the city, so I started concerning myself with her.
“To solve her problem, I looked for devices she could use but all the devices that were available were too expensive and intrusive, meaning surgery where a speaker is inserted inside a person’s inner ear.
“I knew she could not afford that and she would certainly hate to have an object inserted inside her ear,” he said
.“I started thinking about millions of other people faced with the same challenge.”
Then in 2014, Mandlakazi started the journey to develop a cost-effective device that would make the lives of millions of deaf people easier and safer.
However, that journey proved not to be an easy one, due to lack of capital.
“The device we developed at the time for demonstrations was not enough to raise more funding.
“So, we used entrepreneurial competitions to raise funds,” said Mandlakazi.
The prototype device went on to win several prizes in entrepreneurial competitions including the Gauteng Accelerator Programme Innovation Competition and the South African Breweries Foundation Social Innovation Awards.
“Through cash prizes won in these competitions, we developed Senso’s very first proof of concept, which enabled us to raise the funding to develop the product,” he said.
The state finally come through last December when Mandlakazi received funding from the department of trade & industry to develop the device.
Mandlakazi said he was unable to disclose the amount of money invested in the device by several funders, as they were still fundraising.
In June this year Mandlakazi was invited to attend the African Innovators Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, where he was named among the top 50 innovators on the continent.
Mandlakazi aims to launch the product later this year, when it will become available at selected retailers. “It will cost no more that R2,500,” he said...

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