Rwanda Could Become Home To World’s First Droneport

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Written by Dana Sanchez

The first cargo drone route could be operating in Africa by 2016 if a proposed droneport materializes in Rwanda, according to a report in GlobalConstructionReview.

Switzerland-based research organisation Afrotech and U.K. architect Foster + Partners have proposed more than 40 droneports in Rwanda to help get cargo to communities with poor access to roads.

In Africa, two thirds of the population lives more than 2 kilometers away from an all-season road, and that is unlikely to change given the capital investment needed to build roads and rail, the architect said, according to GlobalConstructionReview.

Foster + Partners plan to supply Rwanda with droneport kits, with the basic framework and brick-press machinery delivered to the site. Raw materials such boulders for the foundation and clay for bricks will be locally sourced.

In the 21 years since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the country has come shockingly far, according to a report by the PulitzerCenter. Technology has been key to this turnaround. Despite a near total lack of natural resources, the country’s GDP grew at an annual rate of 8 percent over the last 10 years, making it one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Poverty and inequality have dropped in a country that is becoming known as “the Switzerland of Africa.”

President Paul Kagame, known as the “digital president,”  is credited with helping Rwanda leapfrog from agrarian to a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy. “We want technology to sort of permeate all the professions, all the jobs,” said Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and Information Technology, according to the PulitzerCenter.

Drones could provide an “infrastructural leap” to provide towns and villages with commercial goods and emergency aid, says Foster + Partners.

The first phase of the plan for Rwanda is to build three droneports with a network that can send supplies to 44 percent of the country by 2020, GlobalConstructionReview reports.

Subsequent phases could involve more than 40 droneports, with expansion into neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The first cargo robot route could be operating in Africa by 2016, according to Afrotech, a department of Swiss research university Lausanne Polytechnic that was set up specifically to pioneer advanced technologies for sub-Saharan Africa, GlobalConstructionReview reports.

By 2020, drone technology will be capable of transporting 20 kilograms over distances of several hundred kilometers, says Afrotech.

“The droneport project is about capitalizing on the recent advancements in drone technology – something that is usually associated with war and hostilities – to make an immediate life-saving impact in Africa,” said Lord Foster, chairman of Foster + Partners. “Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the project.”

The project is supported by Swiss Robotics — a joint effort of research groups across Switzerland with the common objective of developing new, human-oriented robotic technology.