This SA startup has developed a wearable IoT device for personal safety

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South African startup MyLifeline is striving to provide users with portable panic buttons via a wearable, Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled device that alerts contacts and emergency services when there is a situation.

MyLifeline was formed in 2015, but only officially launched its product in June of last year.

“Our main concern initially was to research how we can find improved cellphone independent security for people who work in high risk circumstances to have additional peace of mind in moments of duress, from a hijack to a flat tyre. It took us approximately three years to get the software developed and market ready,” Herman Bester, the startup’s co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO).

What MyLifeline ended up building was a product that utilises mobile connectivity to allow any 24/7 security service providers, such as alarm monitoring companies, VIP security providers and large corporates with in-house security, to monitor wearable IoT GPS devices from their security control rooms.

These panic button devices work independently from a mobile phone or any other device, and can be used wherever a cellular network is available. When a user presses and holds the button on the watch, a signal is sent to the manned control room, which receives the individual’s medical details, estimated GPS location, and emergency contacts. Up to five selected contacts also receive an SMS with the estimated GPS location of the emergency situation.

The emergency operator will phone the device directly to first establish the nature of the emergency, and if emergency services are required they will be dispatched. If there is no answer on the device the operator will start calling the emergency contacts in the order specified.

Bester said the idea came about from an evident market gap.

“If a person faces a sudden emergency and that person is not at home where the home panic can be activated, the feasibility for that person to use a cell phone becomes limited. At the same time 24/7 control rooms mostly only monitor incoming alarms from fixed addresses or they deliver vehicle tracking and recovery services,” he said.

“There is no software available in the market that allows 24/7 security service providers to monitor cellphone independent wearable IoT panic devices. Our aim was to bridge this gap by creating software to allow security service providers to do so and offer additional value added services to their customers.”

The self-funded MyLifeline, which raised the necessary capital for development by winning a Santam Safety Ideas challenge held at Stellenbosch University’s LaunchLab incubator, has had “great” uptake, according to Bester.

“In the beginning we found it somewhat challenging to explain to the market what exactly we did, but we have found that it usually takes some time for people and companies to really understand what MyLifeline is all about,” he said.

“We took a conscious decision when we went to market initially that we did not want to cast the net too wide. It was never our aim to start off with a bang. This way we can grow sustainably and we can ensure that our software remains reliable. With all of this in mind, the uptake on MyLifeline has definitely exceeded our expectations.”

The startup has gained additional traction by adding B2B customers to its user base, and is already gearing to offer its software to the international community.

“At the moment we are taking it one step at a time. We already have an integration partner in Cyprus, so I believe that within the next few years our geographic scope will become more international,” said Bester.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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