Malawi Launches Africa’s 1st Drone And Data Academy

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli
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Malawi has opened Africa’s first drone and data academy with the aim of training hundreds of Africans to pilot drones and analyze drone imagery. A drone aircraft with a payload of simulated blood and other medical samples flies during a ship-to-shore delivery simulation. Image: AP Photo/Mel Evans

Malawi has opened Africa’s first drone and data academy and plans to train Africans from Malawi and neighboring countries using a curriculum developed in partnership with U.S. university Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State.

The drone and data technology course will not only teach students how to build, maintain and pilot drones but also how to analyze and interpret geographical data from drone imagery.

This data can be used, for example, to assess natural disaster risks, monitor rural communities’ migration trends or respond to issues involving floods and food insecurity.

The academy, which launched in Lilongwe, Malawi on Jan. 13, wants to improve drone technology skills for multiple applications across Africa, according to a press release.

With funding and support from the United Nations Children’s Fund
the academy offers 10-week courses for pilots to develop expertise using drones for humanitarian purposes, commerce and development across Africa. 

Beginning with an initial cohort of 26 students, the academy plans to train around 150 students to build and pilot drones in 2020, VOA reports.

Malawi has been a pioneer in drone technology. Since 2016, the country has used drones to transport blood, medicines an HIV testing kits to remote areas using a mobile phone app.

Since 2017, Virginia Tech has been working with Malawian teams to build and test drones to transport small packages of medical supplies and diagnostics.  

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In 2016, Malawi partnered with UNICEF to launch Africa’s first drone corridor, according to NyasaTimes.

Normally, drones are not allowed to operate beyond an operator’s line of sight for safety reasons. A drone corridor allows government and private companies to test drones and other unmanned aerial systems beyond visual line of sight.

In April 2019, UNICEF launched a second African drone corridor in Sierra Leone to test drones for humanitarian and development initiatives to improve the lives of children in hard to reach areas. 

The U.N. plans to launch a similar drone testing corridor in Namibia.