All of the drone industry’s eyes are on Rwanda this week — or at least the skies above it.
The 2020 African Drone Forum kicks off today in Kigali, Rwanda as a multi-day long drone event put on by the Government of Rwanda in partnership with the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.
The event, which runs between Feb. 5 and 8, includes a range of activities, from a symposium of global drone policy experts to a drone equipment expo. There’s even a flying competition hosted on Rwanda’s iconic Lake Kivu — with about $50,000 in prize money on the table.
The competition portion of the 2020 African Drone Forum is called the Lake Kivu Challenge, where drones will compete in a series of real-world scenarios between Bugorura Island in Lake Kivu, and a temporary droneport in Kibuye on the Rwandan mainland. Those three scenarios are:
- Emergency Delivery: Contestants must safely deliver an emergency package weighing a minimum of 1kg from the droneport on the mainland to Bugarura Island in Lake Kivu, and then return and land safely at the starting point.
- Sample Pick-Up: Contestants must take off from the mainland droneport and safely pick up as many 250g modules as possible from the droneport on Bugarura Island on Lake Kivu and return them to the mainland droneport.
- Find and Assess: Contestants must successfully provide a high-quality orthomosaic covering a 1.5 km² of an island or set of islands that are 20km from a droneport on the mainland in Lake Kivu, then return and land safely at the starting point.
Judges will critique the drones as they carry out those scenarios, and cash prizes of up to 40,000 Great British Pounds (a bit more than $50,000) will be doled out amongst the pilot(s) of the winning drones.
With many drones in the air, Rwanda will also be deploying an unmanned traffic management system for the 2020 African Drone Forum, provided by UK-based software company company Altitude Angel.
Rwanda has been particularly important for the drone industry because of its history in successfully flying drones beyond visual line of sight, which is critical for making drone deliveries. Medical delivery company Zipline has been operating in Rwanda for years to bring deliveries of blood transfusion supplies, emergency vaccines, HIV medications, antimalarials and othermedical supplies, in a project done in partnership with UPS.
The event isn’t just good news for Rwanda, but the drone industry as a whole, as it proves that big players in the world’s economy, the World Economic Forum and the World Bank, both have a vested interest in the development of drones.
“Increasing drone use in Africa can not only bring great benefits to business, agriculture and the health sector but quite literally save lives by taking deliveries off the roads and into the sky,” Timothy Reuter, head of aerospace and drones at the World Economic Forum, said in a prepared statement.
“This will promote the skies above Africa as a valuable resource and technologies to help build sustainable infrastructure,” added Riccardo Puliti, the Global Director of the World Bank’s Energy and Extractive Industries Global Practice and the Regional Director for the Infrastructure department in the Africa region.
And it’s not just Rwanda that’s been a big-time drone developer. A number of other countries on the continent have seen incredible drone use. South African media outlets have used drones to provide real-time traffic updates, while the Tanzania National Park service has been using drones for anti-poaching efforts. One young entrepreneur, Lyela Mutisya, has been using drones to help with Kenya’s coffee farms.