Crime Spurs South Africa’s Inventors to Action

Alistair Thomson, Reuters, Dec. 29

Johannesburg—Want a computer that screams when a thief strikes? Or a personal tracking unit in case you get kidnapped?

All this from the nation that brought you the anti-hijack flame-throwing car.

South Africa’s inventors are dreaming up ever more ingenious ways of getting one over on the criminals.

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Their companies and the nation’s inventors alike are forever devising new systems to dye stolen bank notes with permanent ink, track stolen vehicles or seal off the cash section of vans in a constant battle to stay ahead of the equally resourceful criminals.

Anti-hijack devices and radio or satellite tracking devices for family cars are becoming ever more sophisticated.

In Johannesburg’s wealthy northern suburbs scarcely a house is without radio-controlled gates, infra-red anti-burglar beams and electric fences that bring armed security guards bursting through the door at the drop of an intruder’s hat.

“Joburgers” have become a byword for obsession with security, with an ad for cheap flights to the Indian Ocean resort of Durban showing a young buy on the beach building a sandcastle complete with an elaborate system of razor-wire.

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With a computer circuit board concealed in the butt and a revolutionary laser firing mechanism instead of the traditional hammer, the “South African Intelligent Firearm” would not look out of place on the set of a science fiction movie.

The really clever bit is in the handle, which reads the user’s thumb print so only the rightful owner can fire it.

And when it shoots, a camera takes a digital photo of the target, noting the time and the date—just in case the user ends up in court having to justify opening fire.

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Venture out on the mean streets of South Africa and at the press of a button his handy “Buddi on Call” will inform family, friends and a central call center—that the user is being kidnapped.

It may sound a little extreme in a country where kidnapping for cash is relatively rare. But Carter says the idea proved a hit after this year’s high-profile kidnapping and murder of a student from a wealthy family who was snatched from her university car parking lot.

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