Could the use of drone across Africa really save lives?
The use of drone technology is currently increasing at a very fast rate across the world, this is in part because of the hugely diverse number of ways it can be used across a wide range of industries.
Drones are already being used by the military across the world for both targeted strikes and surveillance, and in sharp contrast also being used in the US as a way of delivering pizza.
Some parts of Africa are already very successfully using drone technology, not only as an aid in mapping but also as an anti-poaching device. The majority of the new proposed uses of drones in Africa are however targeting humanitarian supply chain challenges, and if successful could be lifechanging for many Africans, particularly those who live in very rural areas.
Drone technology to be used for humanitarian purposes
The African continent is a developing region, however the World Bank recently described it as having the worst infrastructure of all other developing regions, in part due to its extreme climate and difficult landscapes. The challenges include a decline in the availability of electricity in many parts of the continent, as well as disintegrating rural roads, including major highways.
The idea of looking to the skies for a solution is not a new one for the world’s second largest continent, mobile phone technology is already a massive growth sector in Africa due to the lack of a landline network.
A number of different projects in which the use of drone technology is being explored are currently underway in Africa, the highest profile of which involves a partnership between Zipline, a US company, and the Rwandan government. Their intention is to launch a network of drones which will be used to deliver medicines, vaccinations and blood to hospitals and clinics in remote parts of the country. Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in Africa however similar deliveries made by road can still take weeks, whereas drone technology could make the same delivery in a matter of hours.
Challenges are diverse
Whilst airspace is not a challenge, even in urban areas, there are a number of other difficulties that need to be resolved before any drone technology can be fully relied upon, including allaying government suspicions and the fear of attack from those on the ground, the retrieval of damaged/crashed drones, the requirement for regular recharging, and the limited range and high cost of many drones.
Aid organizations are largely in support of drone technology
The co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York, Arthur Holland Michel, believes that whilst the technology is available and there are a number of challenges that need to be resolved, it is possible that in a few years the technology will be sufficiently perfected so that it can be relied upon to make critically important deliveries to all parts of rural Africa. During a recent interview, he said, “The holy grail is to have a network of autonomous drones that do their work independently, with a human supervising numerous deliveries at once,”.
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