Unlocking lower skies in Rwanda, ADF 2020

The African Drone Forum, or ADF2020, has scaled up and moved to Rwanda, scheduled to take place from 5-7 February 2020.

Why the change, you ask? Tanzania set the pace in 2018 with Africa’s first-ever historic gathering of drone advocates, and we thank them for their commitment for year zero and now as they pass the proverbial baton to our next host country.

The move was announced at the recent World Economic Forum on Africa held in Cape Town on 4 September 2019.

Rwanda is a fitting venue for the next iteration of the event as the Rwandan Government was the first in Africa and one of the first in the world to promulgate comprehensive performance-based UAS regulations allowing Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) commercial operations. Hosting ADF2020 in Rwanda is expected to strengthen the insights and knowledge exchange at the symposium sessions on regulatory transformation, while the geography of the lake region will challenge the competing flying teams to excel within a real-world use-case environment.

If you’re an innovator, policymaker or aviator, you can’t afford to miss this important event, where drone teams, regulators and other stakeholders will come together to exchange knowledge and advance the adoption of #dronesforgood on the continent.

“We are excited to host the Africa Drone Forum, a platform that will bring together policymakers, drones enthusiasts, experts, and industry leaders to explore potential use-case applications for UAV technology on the African continent. It’s an opportunity for Rwanda to share our experience in pioneering the use of Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) UAV operations, and the development of drone regulations,” says Hon. Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT and Innovation, Rwanda.

Registration for the Lake Kivu Challenge – which consists of three sub-competitions – has been reopened to give teams the chance to sign up – have you registered your drone team to take part? Don’t delay, however, as registration will close on 4 October 2019.

We chatted to Jonty Slater, Challenge Design and Management Consultant (IMC), about what makes the flying competitions different this time around.

ADF: Tell us what makes the Lake Kivu Challenge different from the Lake Victoria Challenge?

JS: The Lake Kivu Challenge is an evolution from the Lake Victoria Challenge. It is still based around the three competitions: ‘Emergency Delivery’, ‘Sample Pick-Up’ and ‘Find and Assess’, but the users’ cases have changed to be valuable across a wider area of Africa.

ADF: How have the competitions been designed for this particular environment?

JS: We have had to rethink the flying competitions to allow them to function in the local airspace for local needs. The primary difference is the participants will have to show the safety case to allow them to fly BVLOS in the Lake Kivu area.

ADF: Will the same criteria be applied, or have the criteria changed?

JS: We have evolved the criteria for the ‘Find and Assess’ competition, specifying the resolution and safety requirements for the BVLOS flights.

ADF: What else do entrants need to know before registering?

JS: Please read the users’ cases and make sure your drone system meets the minimum criteria. If you have any questions, please email us here

WHY IS THE WORLD BANK SUPPORTING ADF2020?

“When we think about drones and autonomous systems, it’s a leapfrogging opportunity that can have a significant impact on two macro challenges in Africa,” says Edward Anderson, Senior Digital Development and Resilience Specialist.

“The first is mobility – a third of the rural population live within 15 minutes of an all-weather road. That’s a big challenge for rural facilities in hard-to-reach communities in terms of cost, time, and resilience. The second is mapping and data. Some 90% of Europe is surveyed to local scales regularly, and if Africa is really going to develop its land, its tenure systems and its agriculture, we also need to invest heavily in new digital mapping solutions. With this in mind, the World Bank has been moving away from piloting technologies and really looking at how we work on the whole enabling environment, and how we support governments that have a vision for the future they want to realise in a safe, equitable and cost-effective way. This is a holistic approach between regulators, industry, innovators and logistical champions.”

INTRODUCING CHARIS – RWANDA’S FIRST LICENSED DRONE COMPANY IN RWANDA

As the first licensed commercial drone company in Rwanda, Charis Unmanned Aerial Solutions (UAS) is at the forefront of innovation in the country. We asked founder Eric Rutayisire about the potential economic benefits of drone usage on the continent, and what ADF2020 means for Rwanda and Africa as a whole.

ADF: Tell us a little bit more about what Charis UAS does.

ER: We work across a number of industries, providing solutions that are aligned with customer requirements. In terms of precision agriculture, for example, we assist with crop mapping, flying over our clients’ farms; last year, we started spraying and also fertilising large farms. On the mining side, we do topographical surveys that help mines to know how much waste they produce – this assists in terms of optimising their operations.

We have also come up with a solution for the health sector. Malaria has been on the increase, so we work with the Ministry of Health and the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, spraying wetlands with larvicide to kill mosquitoes while still in the larval stage. We also inspect powerlines and help to prevent power outages.

ADF: How does it feel to have been a pioneer in Rwanda?

ER: We’re pleased that our hard work is paying off now. When we started in July 2014, we didn’t know how the technology would be received and adopted by the country. Technology improves all the time – not on the hardware side, but in terms of the software, navigation systems and processing – and a major part of the equation is how data is managed now. It’s easy to gather data but more difficult to use it in a meaningful way. This is where the industry is headed.

ADF: What are some of the economic benefits that are likely to emerge from drone usage?

ER: If the technology is embraced, job creation could certainly follow. I think it would be great if drones could drive the younger generation towards agriculture. There’s a misconception that farming is for ‘old people’, but there’s a chance drones could change minds about this. Some professions may find change difficult to cope with – surveyors don’t always want to look at how technology can assist them, for example – but on the whole drone technology will bring economic benefits to almost all sectors. We hope people will embrace that.

ADF: What do you think ADF2020 will bring to Rwanda, the continent and the global stage?

ER: ADF2020 will most likely raise awareness of what drones are capable of. There are so many misconceptions about what drones are for. I think this event will really help to educate people and raise the visibility of drones for beneficial purposes.