Qatar-developed technology that enables people to keep their homes safe from gas leaks by remote control is demonstrating how innovation can offer peace of mind.
Homegrown startup Subol, currently being incubated at Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), has produced the world’s first smart domestic LPG leakage detection and shutoff system – Samam – by capitalizing on advances in Internet Of Things hardware and software, and combining engineering expertise with social awareness and an innovative mindset.
The system devised by Subol – now approaching its third anniversary – comprises a ‘sensor unit’ to detect gas leaks, and an ‘actuator unit’ to be attached to the outside of gas installations and activated through a mobile app which sends users a notification if a risk emerges, allowing them to shut off their gas system with one tap.
Fully autonomous, designed to be seamlessly integrated with home automation systems, and chiming with the concept of smart cities, Samam is currently being put through its paces as it undergoes rigorous testing, after which the Subol team aim to progress to the manufacturing stage and raise further investment. As Saleh Safran, the company’s CEO, explains, the idea stems from recognizing the havoc that undetected gas leaks can cause, and that while technology is already combating this risk, it could be taken further.
“During my Mechanical Engineering studies at Qatar University, we took a subject called ‘Design’, which encouraged us to develop a product purely from thinking outside the box,” he said. “It opened the door for me to realize that I could use my skills to create something myself.
“Myself and the original Subol team – all of whom were undergraduates – wanted to put what we had learned to use by identifying a problem facing society, and developing a solution grounded in engineering and tech innovation. When we learned about an incident caused by a gas leak at a Doha petrol station in 2011, we realized we had found the problem, and started to work on the solution.”
Being initially based at Qatar Business Incubation Center allowed the team to raise seed funding and get to grips with the business aspect of techpreneurship. Two years down the line, they turned to QSTP to help them take their startup to the next level by developing a Proof of Concept.
The result is Samam, Subol’s first product, which is ultimately designed to reach the international market – particularly Asia and Europe, where 200m homes use LPG – but to first acquire a customer base in Qatar, where, in 2015-16, seven per cent of household fires were due to gas leaks, and almost 34,000 homes experienced a leakage.
“There are many gas leakage detection systems that have various designs and levels of efficiency and effectiveness,” outlined Saleh. “But Samam is different because its shut-off unit can be attached to the exterior of a gas cylinder and remote-controlled.
“Because it falls under the umbrella of the Internet Of Things, it means users can control their gas system from outside their homes, setting their minds at rest by giving them prompt notification of any problems through a secure, reliable network. It also has benefits for campers who are using gas, as some of its functions can still be used without WiFi connectivity.”
Being incubated at QSTP has enabled the Subol team – which, as well as Saleh, comprises CTO Omar Taban, sales advisor Francisco Lafuente, and Alma Kharouf, whose focus is on business development – to move closer to their goals. “It’s such a motivating environment for startups,” said Saleh, “with great companies and great networking opportunities.
“When we were deciding where to continue to incubate Subol, what clinched it for us was that QSTP made it so clear that they wanted us here, and they have really supported us in developing and financing Samam.”
The international market may await Subol, but for now, the company is Qatar-focused. “We want to assess Samam’s impact on the market here, and if the reaction is as positive as we hope and believe it will be, we can look further afield,” said Saleh.
“Qatar has supported us, and that gives us the determination to do something for Qatar in return. I feel that’s a strong motivation for all the really exciting homegrown startups and SMEs, like us, that are emerging, growing, taking brilliant new ideas forward, and doing something innovative rather than something routine.
“Being an entrepreneur exposes you to so many things that you have no option but to learn about if you want to succeed – business development, finance, legal matters, strategy, market understanding. But it gives you something you can’t find in an everyday job, because when you have your own startup, it’s YOUR company, and you decide what you want to do and how you’re going to do it.
“While there can be pressure, there are no boundaries. That’s what really leads to you developing not just as an entrepreneur and an innovator, but as a person.”
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Saleh Safran says: “Establish the right team; check whether your idea exists already; if it does, make sure it’s an improvement on what is already out there; and don’t be afraid to pitch it – knock on an incubation center’s door, and see what happens.”
• To discover more about Subol, visit www.samam.subol.io