Africa’s drone innovation is poised to go a notch higher after the establishment of the first school dedicated to the technology in Lilongwe, Malawi. The Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) was set up by Unicef.
Kenyans are among the first 26 students admitted to the facility, and will train for free at the institution that aims to equip young people with the skills they need to use the technology to benefit children and their communities.
One of the Kenyans, Anne Nderitu, a graduate of aeronautical engineering from Technical University of Kenya, had her final year project on design optimisation of fixed wing drones for a longer flying distance.
Her plan is to use her skills in drone technology to mitigate extreme weather conditions in Kenya that comes with waterborne diseases.
“My interest in ADDA stems from my passion in drone technology. Solving some of the challenges that Africa faces require adapting and adopting new technology,” Ms Nderitu said.
“Coming from a country where innovation and production of aircraft and drones are new, I am venturing on this path in order to become an expert in design and production of drones for the African continent.”
Through the institution, humanitarian and development programme delivery in Africa and beyond can benefit significantly from the application of drone technology. Agriculture, infrastructure and health are among key sectors to benefit from the facility’s data intelligence nodes.
In Africa, and across the world, drones and the data they are allowed to acquire, as well as solutions they propose are radically transforming multiple industries through rapid and dramatic gains in efficiency and productivity.
In an interview via e-mail with Digital Business, Rudolf Schwenk, Unicef Malawi representative said, “Africa’s start-up industry is projected to accelerate rapidly” as thousands of new technology and drone-related jobs are added to the global economy over the next few years.
“As the drone industry grows, young Africans trained at the ADDA will be ready to join the new technology workforce, helping their countries’ economic development,” Mr Schwenk said, noting that ADDA is already in contact with the agricultural sector in Malawi for example, which is interested in using the new skills set to improve crop yield.
Furthermore, the two international drone companies currently operating in Malawi and delivering medicine to remote areas have already expressed strong interest in recruiting graduates as soon as they leave the academy.
ADDA is also working on an entrepreneurship training for graduates to support them establish start-up companies as well as initiate internships for graduates in private and public sector.
Of the 26 students, 16 are Malawians and the others come from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the DRC.
“We are also very proud that more than half of the students are female,” Mr Schwenk said.
Unicef, he said, is supporting the establishment of the ADDA for four years during which a certificate will be delivered to some 150 students. A full-blown Master’s degree curriculum will be developed and launched in September 2021 for some 30 students per class.
After the initial investment over four years, he added, Unicef plans to hand over the ADDA to local partners who can continue providing training.
The current 10-week course covers aircraft and systems design, aerodynamics, propulsion, communications, flight operations, imaging products, data processing, data analysis, and presentations and reports.
Students will earn a Trusted Operator Program (TOP) Level 2 certificate in drone technology, which is an internationally recognised certification but also can be converted into a Malawi remote pilot license (RPL).
Level 2 recognises the pilot’s ability to master flight and maintain a quality assurance programme in commercial operations.
“We are sharing the profiles of the students on our Facebook page and as soon as we have finalised all 26 profiles they will be uploaded on the ADDA page on our website.”
Applicants must be aged between 18 and 24 and are citizens of an African country, able to read, speak, and understand the English language. They must have a bachelor’s degree in the field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics, or equivalent practical experience.
The cohort 1 students were selected by a panel consisting of experts affiliated to Virginia Tech, Malawi University of Science and Technology and Unicef.
More than half of students (55 per cent) are women with undergraduate degrees in science, technology or engineering.
The second ADDA cohort will start its training mid-April 2020.
Unicef Malawi, the Government of Malawi and other partners began testing the use of drones in development and for humanitarian purpose in Kasungu, Malawi in 2017.
Since then, drone testing and application work has included delivery of medical supplies, emergency response work, crop monitoring, cholera mapping as well as integrating drones into national disaster response and monitoring.
Unicef Malawi has established ADDA with initial support from The Global Fund, the German Government as well as partners from Scotland and Sweden.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) is yet to activate new regulations to govern importation and commercial use of drones, even for photography, recreational, humanitarian and health services.
While significant improvement in terms of development and enactment of national rules governing drones use was made in 2018, 60 percent of African countries still do not have regulations in place or have simply banned the use of the technology.