The African Drone Forum community brings top experts from academia, industry, government, and civil society together with drone enthusiasts in Africa to share knowledge and insights on UAS technology and regulations.

Our Expert Insights are from leading figures and organizations in the UAS field from around the world. 

A Rwanda First

A Rwanda First with Charis Unmanned Aerial Solutions (UAS)

As the first licensed commercial drone company in Rwanda, Charis Unmanned Aerial Solutions (UAS) is at the forefront of innovation in the country. We asked founder Eric Rutayisire about the potential economic benefits of drone usage on the continent, and what ADF2020 means for Rwanda and Africa as a whole.

ADF: Tell us a little bit more about what Charis UAS does.

Eric Rutayisire: We work across a number of industries, providing solutions that are aligned with customer requirements. In terms of precision agriculture, for example, we assist with crop mapping, flying over our clients’ farms; last year, we started spraying and fertilising large farms. On the mining side, we do topographical surveys that help mines to know how much waste they produce — this assists in terms of optimising their operations.

We have also come up with a solution for the health sector. Malaria has been on the increase, so we work with the Ministry of Health and the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, spraying wetlands with larvicide to kill mosquitoes while still in the larval stage. We also inspect powerlines and help to prevent power outages.

ADF: How does it feel to have been a pioneer in Rwanda?

Eric Rutayisire: We’re pleased that our hard work is paying off now. When we started in July 2014, we didn’t know how the technology would be received and adopted in the country. Technology improves all the time — not on the hardware side, but in terms of the software, navigation systems and processing side — and a major part of the equation is how data is managed now. It’s easy to gather data but more difficult to use it in a meaningful way. This is where the industry is headed now.

ADF: What are some of the economic benefits that are likely to emerge from drone usage?

Eric Rutayisire: If the technology is embraced, job creation could certainly follow. I think it would be great if drones could drive the younger generation towards agriculture. There’s a misconception that farming is for ‘old people’, but there’s a chance drones could change minds about this. Some professions may find change difficult to cope with — surveyors don’t always want to look at how technology can assist them, for example — but on the whole drone technology will bring economic benefits to almost all sectors. We hope people will embrace that.

ADF: What do you think ADF2020 will bring to Rwanda, the continent and the global stage?

Eric Rutayisire: ADF2020 will most likely raise awareness of what drones are capable of. There are so many misconceptions about what drones are for. I think this event will really help to educate people and raise the visibility of drones for beneficial purposes.

Find out more about Charis UAS.

Drones - A Leapfrogging Opportunity

Drones – A Leapfrogging Opportunity with The World Bank

“When we think about drones and autonomous systems, it’s a leapfrogging opportunity that can have a significant impact on two macro challenges in Africa,” says Edward Anderson, Senior World Bank Digital Development and Resilience Specialist.

“The first is mobility — a third of the rural population live within 15 minutes of an all-weather road. That’s a big challenge for rural facilities in hard-to-reach communities in terms of cost, time, and resilience. The second is mapping and data. Some 90% of Europe is surveyed to local scales regularly, and if Africa is really going to develop its land, its tenure systems, its agriculture, we also need to invest heavily in new digital mapping solutions. With this in mind, the World Bank has been moving away from piloting technologies and really looking at how we work on the whole enabling environment, and how we support governments that have a vision for the future they want to realise in a safe, equitable and cost-effective way. This is a holistic approach between regulators, industry, innovators and logistical champions.”

For more on The World Bank.

Drone Evolution

Drone Evolution with Gary Mortimer, Editor of sUAS News

Gary Mortimer, Editor of sUAS News, shares his views on ‘rescue robotics’ in hard-to-reach areas of the world and what the Lake Kivu Challenge means for unmanned aviation.

Lives are being saved, difficult distances are diminished, and delivery drones are no longer fiction. One has only to look at the activities of Zipline in Rwanda, Ghana, and India, Swoop Aero in Vanuatu, and DHL with Wingcopter in Tanzania – they are the undisputed leaders, beating Amazon and Google to delivering difference.

Perhaps it is because of the locations in which they operate, and what they deliver, that their business models make so much sense. Delivering coffee and crêpes does not alter lives. It smacks of frivolity and waste, with people unable to plan to buy household items from locations that they could easily walk to and purchase.

It’s time to view this cohort of unmanned aviation for what it has become in Africa – tiny flying ambulances. Regardless of where you are in the world, getting urgent medical supplies through fast is a winner. Africa is especially challenged, with a smaller road network joining mainly principal towns.

East Africa is at the forefront of rescue robotics. Born of the Lake Victoria Challenge, the African Drone Forum is ideally placed to prove technology demonstration challenges and provide a forum to talk through realities right where it’s needed the most.

When Zipline was started, I was not an advocate – it seemed doomed to failure. I foolishly thought they would take or create very simple airframes and do very little to them. Instead, they started with a useful airframe and have improved it, in light of what they have learnt. I thought parachutes and one-way trips were madness, but now I see the genius in ‘less is more’. Their end-to-end approach is faultless.

There are many examples of delivery drones being touted that are just bodged boxes and attachments that were never part of the original designer’s vision. They just don’t fly well.

Here’s a little context – British car manufacturing started in 1897 and by 1913 there were 200 manufacturers. This was the year Henry Ford opened shop in England. World War I improved car production techniques but caused a slump. By 1929, only 58 companies survived. Delivery drones are at perhaps at year 1900 in their development process. Hundreds are popping up but few will survive. The flying competitions on Lake Kivu give potential purchasers of platforms the ability to see them proved. Glossy brochures are great, but to see a machine working is an entirely different prospect. Flying many kilometres over water will mean manufacturers will need to be certain of their platform’s abilities. It is not just flying that comes into focus.

Avoiding conflict with manned aircraft is vital. This is an area in which East Africa has another advantage. Manned traffic numbers are low, simply asking manned traffic to operate above 1 000 feet unless taking off or landing solves most issues.

Operations at night in rural locations to unlit dirt airstrips would face little to no manned aviation conflict. There are Unified Traffic Management (UTM) systems already rolling out in Europe that pull in data from manned aircraft and drones and push it back at Air Traffic Management (ATM) services in a language they speak. UTMs also allow operators to file plans and advise air traffic control of their movements in a silent electronic manner. Choosing one that is powerful enough and cost-effective will be a challenge in itself.

Another African elephant in the room (pun intended) is what delivery areas or drone ports should look like. The drone port will have to receive and despatch drones in a safe manner. This is an opportunity to provide not only employment but extra services to a village, solar power, internet communications, and 4IR skills

Drone ports will become central to the acceptance of delivery drones within communities. They are the customer-facing part. To truly succeed, drone deliveries not only need visionary platform creators but aviation regulators and medical staff that also see the big picture. The African Drone Forum is the continent’s leading drone innovation event that brings cutting-edge technology to the heart of Africa.

Gary Mortimer is the editor of sUAS News, the industry’s leading news and information source for unmanned aviation.

Risks and Costs with Deloitte

Deloitte supports the Lake Kivu Challenge with risk management and cost-benefit analysis tools.

During the Lake Victoria Challenge, global professional service firm, Deloitte, undertook to build a cost-benefit analysis tool to allow stakeholders to compare the cost and benefit of drones with traditional ground transportation. The Deloitte team brought together drone transportation experts based in the United States and international development health experts based in Africa to assess the business case and financial sustainability for using drones based on a variety of use cases.The team used qualitative and quantitative data from the Mwanza region in Tanzania to test their framework and build their tool, in order to show the cost-effectiveness of drone delivery of emergency medical supplies – one of the most vital uses of #dronesforgood.

With the Lake Kivu Challenge around the corner, Deloitte is once again helping government officials and investors to understand the cost, benefits and risks associated with the pilot and scale-up of drone interventions in resource-constrained environments. It is set to test a framework within the context of the Lake Kivu Challenge, and will report on its findings and have the tool ready for us during the symposium.

Understanding the risks associated with drone usage cannot be underestimated. In creating a risk framework for identifying, mitigating and monitoring risks, Deloitte is ensuring that key steps will be taken in the creation of a new programme.

“This risk framework contains the categories of risks to be identified and analysed through risk magnitude and mitigation assessments,” says Zahra Nensi, Associate Director at Deloitte Consulting. “The results of the assessments for each risk are combined into a single score, will allow programme leadership to triage the risks associated with the specific drone mission.”

Donor agencies, government officials, and medical supplies delivery representatives can use these tools get a comprehensively understanding of the level of investment required, potential benefits, and potential risks associated with standing up a drone program.

“These tools will enable these key stakeholders to more data-driven decisions around the integration of drones into their medical supply chains,” says Nensi.

For more information on Deloitte, reach them here.