Date:25 August 2017
Senso is a wearable that alerts the deaf through vibration and light.
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. Mandlakazi recognised being deaf was bad enough. 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. Light and vibration is a better option, because sound can be distorted by 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. It can then be used to monitor a child’s movement or to track a pet or car.
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. This partnership helps him develop the product and refine 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. Especially if these businesses have the potential to create a positive change in the world. Since then, he has collaborated with 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? Startups have inundated the market 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. It needed to be new, 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.
The platform: Senso
The team consists of:
CEO Zuko Mandlakazi, designer Peter Shelwembe, web developer Jose Kabeya, market researcher Pumza Sikhumba, IT specialist Siphelele Mandlakazi, industrial designer Sibusiso Mkhwanazi, and business analyst Sharon Leshabane. The team also include Melvin Musehani and Khutso Bapela who look after the product development.
Funds raised: R1,5 million