Columnists

Let’s harness the opportunities that drones present

drone-pic

A Zipline technician launches a drone to supply medical supplies in Muhanga, Rwanda. FILE PHOTO | AFP

Summary

  • In 2016, Rwanda became the first country to supply commercial drone delivery by shipping life-saving medical supplies to remote rural areas of the country.
  • A South African firm, Paramount Advanced Technologies (PAT), has been manufacturing drones since the 1970s.
  • It is clear that drone technology-enabled services are unlocking a wealth of economic opportunities for countries and communities

Drone technology also referred to as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), stands at the forefront of contemporary transportation with the potential to reinforce the efficiency of a range of tasks.

In 2016, Rwanda became the first country to supply commercial drone delivery by shipping life-saving medical supplies to remote rural areas of the country.

In the past year, South Sudan has also leveraged drone technologies towards transporting essential personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary for fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

A South African firm, Paramount Advanced Technologies (PAT), has been manufacturing drones since the 1970s, and recently announced its intention to create drone swarms “designed for technology transfer and portable manufacturing with partner countries.”

It is clear that drone technology-enabled services are unlocking a wealth of economic opportunities for countries and communities. In Kenya, Fahari Aviation, a subsidiary of Kenya Airways PLC, is championing the beneficial use of drones through training, operations, and traffic management services.

Earlier in the year, the business signed an MoU with advanced air mobility (AAM) company Skyports, to collaborate on launching permanent unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) delivery services in the country.

During the National Wildlife Census coordinated by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) a national baseline survey of wildlife populations and their distribution in Kenya, Fahari Aviation used drones and unmanned aircraft in supporting vast ecosystems and wildlife conservation efforts.

In partnership with KenGen, Fahari Aviation showed the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to improve safety margins, lower costs, and expedite its modernisation programmes through drone technology. The collaboration showcased drones’ ability to be applied within the utility sector while complying with safety, security and regulatory standards for aviation.

From gathering information for disaster management to aerial photojournalism, UAS presents opportunities for Africa to leverage emerging technologies and redefine its back-to-business strategy amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Drones present a sea of economic opportunities across virtually every sector, hence the necessity for Africa to form digitally-enabled socio-economic development as a high priority.

With this in mind, there is an urgent need to progressively formulate an enabling environment necessary for expanding drone technology delivery operational systems and performance-based regulatory frameworks.

In East Africa, Rwanda was the first country to enact laws relating to drone operations. With these laws and regulations in place, Rwanda has been able to deliver significant healthcare provisions including vaccines, medication and blood supplies critically needed in inaccessible hospitals and other remote areas.

As we enter a new era of innovations once thought impossible, it is becoming clear that it is no longer adequate to do things the same way. Harnessing drone technologies could be transformative in achieving sustainable development in Africa.