The Lumkani fire detector is an example of how the IoT can be used to solve critical challenges facing developing countries.
The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been around for decades. Is it just another buzzword or is it on the cusp of improving the lives of people everywhere, including the billions of people living in the developing world?
The IoT is an emerging development of the Internet. Much hyped applications of the IoT abound. From smart phones, connected cars, smart homes, smart cities and smart grids. Each of these applications work in a similar way – a machine that takes measurements with a sensor, and sends those measurements to another machine via the internet. These measurements are then processed and analysed, often in combination with big data, providing new and exciting ways to monitor, respond, and learn from situations in real-time.
Lofty projections about the growth of the IoT also abound. Over the next three years the number of devices on the internet is estimated to grow by 30 per cent, from 18 billion to 24 billion. Nearly half of these devices are projected to be IoT devices. From 2025, the economic value generated by the IoT is estimated to be $11.1 trillion per year. Driving this massive growth is the reduced cost of computing, improvements in wireless connectivity technologies, expanded access to networks, and advancements in software.
But are the social and economic benefits of the IoT confined to the developed world? No. Numerous examples exist where the IoT is already addressing some of the most critical challenges facing developing countries.
One such example is a partnership between World Vision and Lumkani to prevent slum fires. Due to extremely dense and flammable housing combined with haphazard electrical wiring and an abundance of open flame, devastating fires are a regular occurrence for the world’s 800 million slum dwellers. They kill thousands of people each year and destroy the homes and businesses of many more.
In response, Lumkani have developed the world’s only fire detector specifically for slums. Instead of detecting smoke, they detect a rapid rise in temperature, making them suitable for smoky slum environments. They are also network capable, communicating with other detectors and a central smart device via radio frequency. So when a fire is detected, all detectors within 40 metres will also sound an alert. The central smart device which contains cellular technology, also sends an SMS alert to residents and GPS coordinates to emergency services. Behind the scenes, a web based application is continually monitoring and recording all activity. All of this allows for an accurate and rapid community wide response to slum fires, saving lives, homes, and businesses.
The Lumkani fire detector has been trialled in South Africa and Namibia with great results. World Vision has recently received $250,000 to take it to the slums of Asia.
Other examples of the IoT addressing development challenges include village water pumps with flow sensors to detect and report faults; diagnostic systems used by community health workers in remote areas to alert doctors of high-risk patients; water quality sensors in rivers to alert communities of high concentrations of toxic chemicals; micro-weather stations to improve localised weather data and enable crop failure insurance for smallholder farmers; and rent-to-own off-grid solar systems providing cheap power to remote households.
These are just a few of the exciting ways the IoT is addressing diverse development challenges. But without widespread adoption, they will all fall short of achieving any significant impact. Projections of IoT adoption in the developing world are concerning. By 2019 it is projected that there will be more than five IoT devices per capita in developed countries and less than one per capita in developing countries.
This widening gap can be attributed to a number of challenges facing the adoption of IoT in developing countries. Some of these include inadequate human capacity to operate, support, and maintain the technology, cost prohibitive sensors and connectivity modules, limited data network coverage in remote locations, and no or unreliable access to electricity.
These challenges don’t mean that developing countries aren’t capable of large scale adoption of the IoT. They just mean that application of the IoT in developing countries will need to be contextually suitable. Simpler, cheaper, and less integrated applications of the IoT that leapfrog intermediary technologies may be more effective. M-Pesa, the acclaimed mobile payments platform in Kenya is an example of how this approach can work. By bypassing the formal banking system, M-Pesa was able to deliver a mobile payment system to unbanked Kenyans that was simple and affordable. It now has more than 22 million users with 60% of Kenya’s GDP flowing through it.
Designing and accelerating the adoption of such contextually suitable applications of the IoT for developing countries will require a local IoT eco-system. One that includes supportive government policies, a vibrant tech start-up and incubator scene, and private and non-profit organisations that can take the best ideas to scale.
With local knowledge and networks in over 90 developing countries, combined with expertise in alleviating poverty, World Vision is one such organisation actively pursuing partnership opportunities to pilot and scale the IoT in developing countries to solve some of the world’s most critical challenges.