Some of Africa’s first commercial drone startups are generating clients and income. South Africa’s Rocketmine and Ghana’s Aeroshutter are completing services such as 3D volumetric image processing, aerial advertising, and music video production for multinational mining companies, global telecoms firms, and African pop stars. This precedes the anticipated debut of commercial drone delivery in Africa, which could be one to two years off.
Based in Johannesburg, Rocketmine provides “aerial data solutions” in mining, agriculture, water and forestry, and civil engineering. It expects to book just over $1 million in revenue in 2016, according to CEO Chris Clark, and received South Africa’s first Commercial Operating License in 2015 under the country’s new Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) regulations.
A self-declared “tech geek,” Clark saw the potential for aerial data services working for digital media company Public Display Technologies (PDT). He noticed one of his mining clients struggling with human data collection and attempting to operate their own broken drone.
Clark formed Rocketmine in 2013, as a startup spinoff of PDT. Rocketmine now has 7 pilots, operates a fleet of 15 eBee drones, and conducts business in South Africa, Nigeria, and Mozambique. While Clark sees South Africa’s advanced commercial drone regulation as structured to ensure safety, he believes, “Africa’s drone environment overall is still less institutionalized than the U.S. and offer’s a lot of space for entrepreneurs to experiment.”
Ghanaian startup Aeroshutter is testing a number of new commercial drone services, alongside those it already provides. Founded by 30 year old Kwamena Hazel, the company offers aerial photography, commercial property surveillance, and ads. A graduate of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Hazel described his penchant for tech gadgets and entrepreneurship. He got into drones as a hobby while working as a bank IT specialist and soon saw commercial applications. Hazel found the American blog Droneabove.com and sought advice from its founder Justin Edwards. “He sent me books on how to start the business and perform aerial photography and that helped us launch the company and our first customers.”
Aeroshutter now has 6 staff operating a fleet of DGI drones with SD card camera’s running Pix4D and Dronedeploy mapping software. It charges from $5K- $15K per project, according to Hazel, and has done work in Ghana for Best Western, TEDx, Vodaphone, and Numont Mining. In 2015, Aeroshutter shot footage for local artist Stonebwoy’s music video that went on to win at Ghana’s 4Syte Music Video Awards.
While commercial drone couriers in Africa may be years off, initiatives are currently underway to make it happen. Swiss led enterprise Flying Donkey is working on unmanned, robotic, flying vehicles to deliver heavy cargo across Africa. They’ve started research in Kenya and are projected to test in 2017. Another endeavor, Afrotech, is directing the Red Line project to launch open source cargo drones and drone routes across the continent. Red Line expects to open its first drone port in Rwanda in 2018.