Drones are, without doubt, one of the next big things of Africa’s tech revolution. Slowly but surely, they are being introduced in innovative ways to help with the continent’s development.
In an interesting move, the City of Cape Town last week announced a partnership with local tech firm WeFix to use drones to spot sharks at Fish Hoek and Muizenberg beaches.
Drones will circle overhead recording images, with a live feed of these visuals then shared with shark-spotters, who can warn swimmers. The aim is to ensure faster reaction times and reduce the number of false sightings.
There are plans to expand this project to other beaches in the city, and there is certainly a strong argument to be made for the use of drones in this case.
Yet there are many other cases where drones can play – and are playing – a positive role in Africa. There are, of course, safety and privacy concerns, while the drone space in Africa is dangerously unregulated.
The potential, however, is huge, mainly due to the ability of drones to overcome the logistical challenges associated with such a large continent.
Sharks are not the only form of wildlife that drones can help with. Poaching is a huge problem across Africa, especially rhino poaching. South Africa in particular has a problem in this regard, and once again it has turned to drones for help.
In KwaZulu-Natal, rhino reserves are being patrolled by silent drones looking for poachers. The great thing is the size of the coverage they offer compared to park guards.
The surveillance drones feature a GPS navigation system, and are controlled by an on-the-ground operator. They even have the ability to use predictive analytics to predict where poachers will be. This could be a game-changer for conservation.
There are other areas where drones can help.
In Rwanda, a partnership between the government and US startup Zipline has seen the country become the home of the world’s first drone airport. Zipline is using a fleet of drones to deliver blood and medical supplies to far-flung areas.
The company has just raised a US$25 million funding round, which will see it expand the service to other countries and into more commercial arenas.
“Rwanda has one of the highest rates in the world of maternal death due to postpartum hemorrhaging,” said Justin Hamilton, a spokesperson for Zipline.
“During Rwanda’s lengthy rainy seasons, many roads wash out becoming impassible or non-existent. Often transfusion clinics in Rwanda only receive blood deliveries twice a year and are frequently out of stock.”
Zipline’s drone’s will increase deliveries to those clinics from twice a year to twice a day. The potential in spaces such as e-commerce is also clear.
“Over the course of the next year, Zipline will expand to countries across Africa and the world, moving beyond blood delivery to include lifesaving vaccines, treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis,” said Hamilton.
It doesn’t end there. Drones are being used by companies like Google and Facebook to increase connectivity in Africa. Facebook’s solar-powered, 42-metre drones, for example, beam connectivity to ground-based receivers, providing a welcome new method of getting more Africans online.
A South African company, DroneScan, is rolling out warehousing drones, capable of scanning inventory in large warehouses. The list goes on.
And how about drones as selfie sticks? That’s the dream of Egyptian company Drofie, which has developed a pocket-sized camera drone with an auto-follow feature. Basically, the drone follows its owner around and snaps pictures of them on-the-go.
It might not sound as groundbreaking as the other examples in this piece, but Drofie has proven popular. The company, which is still in pre-launch, took part in the Swiss Kickstart Accelerator late last year, and has now launched a US$45,000 crowdfunding campaign in order to make the selfie drones commercially available.
Founder Mohamed Ghaith says there is real potential in the drone space in Africa, not just in the selfie sector.
“Drones generally have big potential in Africa, especially the life-saving ones that supply medication and supplies to remote areas,” he said.
Security and safety, however, remain concerns, and there will come a time when governments respond to the increasing prevalence of drone connectivity on the continent. Ghaith, however, is not concerned.
“As of today we have the FAA regulation that states drones under 250gm do not need a license to operate. I think legislation won’t affect drones,” he said.