Find and Assess with Tanzania Flying Labs

Leka Tingitana is Managing Director of the Tanzania Flying Labs, a Tanzania-based accelerator of drone technologies for social good. We spoke with him about advances in drone technology and his vision for Tanzania’s lower skies.

LVC: Why is there a need for drones in Tanzania?
Leka: Drones can collect excellent aerial data, which is highly valuable but also underutilized. Drone data gives rapid and affordable insights, whether in a disaster management scenario, in agriculture, or in health. There’s a lot of demand for high-resolution spatial data, especially in the context of what has been called the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, where our physical and digital worlds are melding together.

LVC: When did you realize the full potential that drones could have?
Leka: It was a project that we did with the International Food Protection Research Institute. They initially wanted to estimate pre-harvest losses using drone data, but through cadastral mapping we were also able to calculate the size of farms and smallholdings, meaning we could calculate yields. With the right training, drones give people the ability to collect their own data and analyze it locally as well.

LVC: How quickly is this technology moving forward?
Leka: After a disaster, the ability to rapidly acquire and analyze aerial imagery becomes very important. Drones could help us to estimate the damage caused to buildings, to infrastructure, or to crops, as well as help us to detect survivors. But in these situations, time is of the essence. Last year, we used drones in a disaster management simulation in Malawi and it took hours just to process the data. You can imagine the impact of this in an actual disaster scenario. But this year, we have been working with new software that has cut down that processing time by more than a half. Now it’s even possible to see what is happening out in the field in real time. Next we’re going to focus on machine learning for the purpose of identifying crop and infrastructure damage. AI has the potential to identify, for example, water catchment areas transmitting malaria, perhaps event more accurately than a human being could.

LVC: What’s your forecast and vision for the future of drones?
Leka: It really depends. Take cargo drones. At the moment, we’re still in the experimental stage, but there are already issues. How much will it cost to carry a payload greater than four kilos? Not to mention the reliability of the navigation software when flying beyond a visual line of sight. I imagine in ten years many of these issues will be resolved. I also envision droneports at places like Bugando and Juma Island, with constant traffic of drones picking up samples and delivering test results. What’s really fantastic is Tanzania is already rated number three in the drone readiness index in Africa. So we are well on our way to becoming a major operator in this continent. We have a regulatory environment conducive to growing this industry.