Why the Whole World Should Watch the African Drone Forum Next Month

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image courtesy African Drone Forum

The African Drone Forum: February 5 – 7, 2020.   Register here!

 The commercial drone industry has developed rapidly over the last five years: and governments, humanitarian organizations and enterprise companies all over the world are working to best utilize the technology to help communities and grow economies.  One continent, however, has been at the forefront of innovative applications and the development of new testing methodologies and regulations: Africa.

When Rwanda signed the first government contract to allow widescale medical drone delivery, the move – and the program, which had the dual benefits of providing skilled jobs to the local community and providing life-saving medical delivery services – caused a ripple throughout the global drone industry.  When UNICEF worked closely with the Malawi government to open a drone corridor for testing and delivery applications, that caused another ripple – and created a valuable model for other testing programs.

image courtesy African Drone Forum

These and other innovative programs on the continent have proven the importance and benefits of drone technology to governments and communities.  The African Drone Forum that will be hosted by the Government of Rwanda on February 5-7, 2020 in Kigali is led by the World Bank and has garnered the support of partners that include the World Economic Forum, UKAID/DfID, Danida, the Republic of Korea, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, John Snow, Inc., Deloitte, AfricanDRONE, Tanzania Flying Labs and many other organizations. The program is designed to bring government stakeholders and drone technology providers together – and will showcase the kind of ideas that have led the rest of the world in implementing the best and most useful applications.

image courtesy African Drone Forum

“The World Bank is exploring the social and economic opportunities of drone technologies in Africa”, says Edward Anderson, Senior Technology and Resilience Specialist at the World Bank.  “Important challenges to poverty alleviation in Africa are improving mobility and land digitization, and ensuring equitable opportunities from the fourth industrial revolution,” says Mr. Anderson. “…Extending mapping and deliveries to rural communities is a key part of enabling eCommerce on the continent and boosting productivity and economic opportunities.” 

With a goal of supporting African governments to harness robotics, autonomy and digital technologies to speed technological development, the African Drone Forum is bringing regulators, users, local startups, investors, and new technology pioneers together.  It’s a broad goal for an event – but the one that has proven most useful in actually getting standards formed around complex technologies and establishing the relationships that encourage business and government partnerships.

In addition to a regulators summit, the event features the Lake Kivu Challenge– a series of flying competitions that will showcase new drone technology.

image courtesy African Drone Forum

Two years in the making, the Lake Kivu Challenge invites drone companies “to help advance the safe implementation of beyond line of sight operations in the hard to reach communities of the Great Lakes region,” says Mr. Anderson.  “The competitions are focused on electric drone technology with vertical landing or short landing capability… that are low cost and capable of high frequency flights.”

Companies who meet the minimum requirements will participate in one or more of 3 flying competitions – which may help identify contractors to provide delivery and mapping services around Lake Kivu, specifically around the Karongi District.

The 3 flying competitions address different applications and flight scenarios:

  • Emergency Delivery: Contestants must safely deliver an emergency package weighing a minimum of 1kg from the droneport on the mainland to Bugarura Island in Lake Kivu, and then return and land safely at the starting point.
  • Sample Pick-Up: Contestants must take off from the mainland droneport and safely pick up as many 250g modules as possible from the droneport on Bugarura Island on Lake Kivu and return them to the mainland droneport.
  • Find and Assess: Contestants must successfully provide a high-quality orthomosaic covering a 1.5 km² of an island or set of islands that are 20km from a droneport on the mainland in Lake Kivu, then return and land safely at the starting point.

Rwanda will host the African Drone Forum – and that’s appropriate.  A pioneer in drone delivery, widespread drone operations, and the first country in the world to manage more autonomous air traffic in 2019 than manned air services, Rwanda is the perfect place for the African and global drone industry to celebrate their achievements and look to the future.  “Rwanda is the right time and place to take stock and assess the future developments in Africa,” says Mr. Anderson. “The ADF aims to foster a pan-African community that is open for business and collaboration.”


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