Drones are, without doubt, one of the next big things of Africa’s tech revolution. Slowly but surely, they are being introduced in innovative ways to help with the continent’s development. In an interesting move, the City of Cape Town recently announced a partnership with local tech firm WeFix to use drones to spot sharks at Fish Hoek and Muizenberg beaches.
Drones will 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.
Yet there are many other cases where drones can play – and are playing – a positive role in Africa. There are, of course, safety and privacy concerns, while the drone space in Africa is dangerously unregulated. The potential, however, is huge, mainly due to the ability of drones to overcome the logistical challenges associated with such a large continent.
In Rwanda, a partnership between the government and US startup Zipline has seen the country become the home of the world’s first drone airport. Zipline is using a fleet of drones to deliver blood and medical supplies to far-flung areas. The company has just raised a US$25 million funding round, which will see it expand the service to other countries and into more commercial arenas.
“Rwanda has one of the highest rates in the world of maternal death due to postpartum hemorrhaging,” said Justin Hamilton, a spokesperson for Zipline, “During Rwanda’s lengthy rainy seasons, many roads wash out becoming impassible or non-existent. Often transfusion clinics in Rwanda only receive blood deliveries twice a year and are frequently out of stock.”
Zipline’s drones will increase deliveries to those clinics from twice a year to twice a day. The potential in spaces such as e-commerce is also clear. It does not end there. Drones are being used by companies like Google and Facebook to increase connectivity in Africa. Facebook’s solar-powered, 42-metre drones, for example, beam connectivity to ground-based receivers, providing a welcome new method of getting more Africans online.
A South African company, DroneScan, is rolling out warehousing drones, capable of scanning inventory in large warehouses. The list goes on.