African drone industry expected to expand in near future
Last updated on December 3rd, 2018
In recent times, civilian use of drones in the United States has received stiff restrictions and that spelled a drawback for the commercial development of the drone industry to a large extent.
Meanwhile, in faraway Africa, a place that is known and referred to as “the world’s poorest countries”, the technology is hugely embraced and has a huge potential in the African drone industry. By expanding this industry, Africa is not only spawning the new market of drone development, but also covering a new milestone in the development of the country and people.
Finding technological solutions that is capable to help leapfrog aging and antiqued infrastructure in the poverty-stricken countries has helped to drive the innovation. Drones are useful in this part of the world like in other parts as well. “From monitoring the movement of displaced and vulnerable populations or carrying out search-and-rescue missions in disaster zones; to delivering medical supplies to remote communities, drones now help to improve the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people,” Seth Berkley, CEO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance says.
According to Berkley, “this technology has to operate under challenging conditions and the constraints of finding business models that suit the needs of cash-strapped governments or aid agencies. While we desperately need this technology to fight poverty and achieve our development and global health goals, there is also a growing sense that these challenges can help spur technological innovation and act as crucial a testing ground for the industry.”
Berkley added that “initially, our interest in drones lay in their potential to deliver vaccines whose use was unpredictable but critical in their timing, like for rabies. If you get bitten by a rabid animal, you will die unless you receive a vaccination but the vaccine is expensive and difficult to stock in all locations,
“The same would be true for snake antivenom or blood in the case of obstetrical haemorrhage. To this end, we became a partner in what became the world’s first national autonomous drone delivery service in Rwanda. To make this possible, rather than use a fleet of existing drones, Californian start-up Zipline chose to innovate by creating their own.”
Describing how this simple, yet technical equipment has helped in works, Berkley explained that “what we needed was something with the range and payload advantages of a fixed-wing design, but that, in a country as hilly as Rwanda, had the advantage of not needing runways, like rotor-based craft which can land vertically. Zipline’s solution was a fixed-wing design that is shot into the air by a mechanical catapult. It then flies to its destination and delivers its payload from the air by a disposable paper parachute, before returning to base, where it is caught in mid-air by a purpose-built rig. It can then have its rechargeable battery swapped and is ready to return to the skies for another delivery.”
“As drone capabilities improve, we also get closer to the prospect of using them as a primary method for restocking all supplies of vaccines. This may not always be appropriate, but in some cases, it would reduce the need for a cold chain, a network of refrigeration units along the supply chain that is needed to keep vaccines at an optimal temperature. For this, and for countries larger than Rwanda, it is likely we will need drones capable of carrying even larger payloads over much greater distances,
While the importance of drones cannot be over-emphasized in many countries, Berkley, noting the challenges that could arise was insightful in turning to one of Africa’s most populous country, he lectured that “In contrast, an urban setting will have a completely different set of requirements. In Nigeria’s capital, Lagos, for example, the traffic is so notoriously bad, the government is now looking at using drones as a delivery solution. In such a scenario, where obstacle avoidance and precise movement is more important, it may be more appropriate to use rotor-based drones, instead of ones with wings.”
Berkley assured that “this will become increasingly important in the coming years because as Zipline looks to expand in other countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, it will face increasing competition. In anticipation of this Zipline recently launched a new drone capable of carrying heavier payloads and travelling greater distances. In other words, it continues to innovate.” African drone industry is the new future.
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