Drones for all
Ben Roberts, Chief Technical and Innovation Officer at Liquid Telecom, examines the need for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Kenya and the region.
By 2022, airspaces worldwide could be filled with flying mini robots as the number of commercial drones taking to the skies reaches an estimated 620,000. Driven by huge usage in the US and China, the commercial market for drones is expected to hit US$15 billion globally in the next four years.
In Africa, Rwanda has already carried out over 1400 successful blood deliveries using drones to almost half of the country’s blood transfusion centres.
Drone technology has for a long time been used by governments and military for activities such as manning military grounds and spying. In recent years, however, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of commercial use cases for drones.
For example, the technology has been increasingly used for aerial photography in film and journalism or for shipping and delivery of materials. It has also been used to gather information during disasters or help geographic mapping of inaccessible terrains.
Drone usage has, however, faced its fair share of criticism due to unregulated usage in many African countries, including Kenya. It has also raised new privacy concerns.
Yet it also holds great potential for many African countries. There has been great interest in using drones to deliver medical supplies and vaccines to underserved rural areas.
By January 2018, the Tanzanian government is set to begin delivery of medical supplies in various parts of the country using drones. This will play a major role in curbing the spread of diseases in remote areas, where trucks take longer to reach due to difficult terrain and inadequate transport infrastructure.
Elsewhere, Malawi is using drones to transfer HIV tests to and from rural parts of the country, Morocco is applying the technology to monitor illegal maritime activity, and Uganda is allowing drone testing to be conducted in its airspace.
In Kenya, tech entrepreneurs have been developing drone technology to aid relief, carry out agricultural surveys and assist in e-commerce. In the near future, we will see e-commerce companies in Kenya leverage on the ability of drones to deliver goods for their customers.
This would be a major boost for the industry - curbing losses incurred from the damage of property in transit and cut time spent in traffic. However, drone delivery is unlikely to be a cost effective method in some areas - such as delivery of pizzas in Nairobi, where the cost of a motorcycle delivery is still very affordable.
Liquid Telecom has used quad copter drones in video production. We demonstrated Wi-Fi and drone technology in 2016 to produce the first ever live outside broadcast of the Kenya national rally championship. With a bird’s eye view from a drone following the rally cars, we were able to live stream on YouTube from a remote rural area on the shores of Lake Elementaita.
By global standards, use of drones and IoT for collection of data can be much cheaper than traditional types of aerial survey.
Many African countries have already embarked on their IoT journey: intelligent traffic lights in Nairobi are helping to ease traffic congestion, load-limiting smart meters are helping to combat outages in South Africa, while drone technology is being used as part of conservation efforts in national parks. Eventually, IoT is becoming an opportunity that businesses in Africa cannot afford to ignore.