There are a number of ways in which drone technology is positively impacting industries in Africa, with numerous sectors benefiting from the advantages that drone tech provides.
Once associated purely with warfare and destruction, drones of all shapes and sizes are now being developed to tackle everyday issues and empower communities across the continent.
From agriculture to safety in shark-infested waters, drones have found their place in a modern world where their capabilities are appreciated more than ever before.
Bringing connectivity to the masses
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s long-term plan for the Aquila drone is to have it, and other large drones like it, provide internet access to people all over the world, including Africa. It recently completed a successful second test flight during which it flew for an hour and 46 minutes, and in the near future the solar-powered drone will aim to fly for months at a time in an effort to provide internet access, even in remote areas.
Rural or remote areas can count on delivery of medical supplies that would otherwise be very difficult to acquire thanks to small drones that are designed to carry blood and medicine over long distances. The same principle applies to health-workers at facilities where drones can deliver medicine or blood, with Zipline, a Californian drone-delivery startup that delivers blood to Rwandan clinics announcing at the end of August that it is expanding its operations into neighboring Tanzania.
South African farmers use drone technology to boost their agricultural output and methods, leading to an upskilled workforce and general cost cutting. Western Cape farmers use drones to conduct general monitoring flyovers, assess vegetation health, track and monitor animals which may need assistance, as well as to assess stressed zones among crops that require watering and fertilisation.
When it comes to humanitarian efforts in Africa, drones offer a fantastic form of aid delivery, as these unmanned drones can often reach the most remote and even conflict-ridden areas. Dutch company Wings For Aid is an example of a firm assisting with aid delivery, as their cargo aircraft is able to be used for disaster relief with a drone that can carry around 220 lbs for over 310 miles.
Conservation of forests
Drones are currently in use to support conservation efforts, such as monitoring deforestation and mining operations, helping to project large forests from being wiped out thanks to constant monitoring and information feeding back to the necessary authorities.
Small drones are used for patrolling areas where there is a risk of conflict and genocide against defenceless populations. These drones monitor threats, such as the movements and approach of militias, making it possible for groups such as the United Nations to warn people in danger so they can take action to protect themselves.
The City of Cape Town announced a partnership with South African tech firm WeFix at the end of 2016 to use drones to spot sharks at Fish Hoek and Muizenberg beaches. Drones 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.
Fence or border monitoring
Another way in which drones are positively impacting industries across Africa is through fence and border monitoring. Unmanned drones can be used to monitor fence lines so that instead of having individuals driving for hours every day to inspect fences or borders, a low-flying drone can videotape and analyze the structure of a fence in far less time, geotagging areas with issues in the fencing.
What better piece of technology to improve aerial imaging in Africa than the humble drone? Helicopters are expensive to use for such purposes, and a drone can cover a bigger area far quicker and at less of a cost than other available options. South African company DroneSnap operates an on-demand platform connecting those requiring aerial imaging with registered drone pilots. Industries such as mining and film-making use their services.
Drones have already shown their effectiveness in combating rhino and elephant poaching on the African continent, as the quiet unmanned flying machines can travel long distances, while equipping them with thermal imaging cameras allows them to see animals and poachers in the bush at night, alerting authorities to react.