As part of a joint humanitarian mission sponsored by the UN children’s agency Unicef, the first air corridor in Africa to test the use of drones was launched in Malawi. The actual site will be in Kasungu Aerodrome in Central Malawi, where the drones will be tested for aerial scouting in situations pertaining to crises, delivering supplies, and improving Internet connectivity. In addition to Unicef, several universities and partners of the children’s agency will also have access to the drone testing site.
The project will run until 2018.
Drone utilization has started to take shape throughout parts of Africa. In 2016, the nearby country of Rwanda launched a commercial drone delivery service for shipping medical supplies. The Rwandan drone operation was overseen by the US-based company Zipline, who’s reduced the delivery time of medical supplies in the country from hours to minutes.
According to Unicef, the organization is working throughout the world with multiple private sectors and governments on exploring how drones can be utilized in humanitarian and developmental missions. The unmanned aircraft being used in Malawi reportedly have a range of 24 miles. Unicef claims their projects adhere to a strict set of innovative principles, and the company is committed to sharing its knowledge with the rest of the UAV community. The project was launched after a successful test flight last year to deliver dried blood for early infant diagnosis of HIV in Malawian hospitals.
The Malawian government recently relied on the help of camera-equipped drones to evaluate people’s needs that were cut off during a recent flood. According to Unicef’s Malawian Representative Johannes Weding, poor infrastructure in the country played a big role in making these driverless aircraft more relevant and cost-effective. Malawi’s Department of Civil Aviation granted permission and specifications for operating delivery drones in the air corridor. The conditions include a maximum distance of 50 miles, an altitude limit of 400 meters, and the corridor running for another 1-2 years.
The program is undoubtedly another huge step in the right direction for the drone industry and its campaigners. Despite years of opposing commercial and civilian drone usage, governments throughout Africa are beginning to allow the integration of UAVs within their air spaces. The Malawi air corridor project is an equivalent of a proposal to the Kenyan government made by a Swiss polytechnic about four years ago, to operate a drone delivery service called Flying Donkey. The plan entailed fixed-wing drones that carried payloads up to 44 pounds in sparsely-populated and poor infrastructure in Northern Kenya to supplement the postal services.
Authorities perceived the project as a threat to security, however, which resulted in the project never coming to fruition. Despite genuine privacy and safety concerns, the absence of progressive drone laws to regulate the industry means African countries are missing out on opportunities in this multibillion dollar industry. Malawi joins Rwanda, South Africa, and Mauritius as the list of nations spearheading cutting-edge drone research utilized to address real-life challenges.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)