The technology space in Africa may be perceived to be in its formative stages, but the direction in which it is taking seems impressive. And as regards the much-vaunted drone technology, Malawi recently opened the first African Drone and Data Academy with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
A window has been opened to tech-savvy Africans as the academy aims to better drone technology skills across the whole continent. The project first finds space in Malawi and will be expanded to neighbouring countries.
The first three-month course at the academy comprises of 26 students from across Africa and they are beginning by learning to construct and pilot drones. The UNICEF is throwing all its support to the new initiative, and the program is expected this year to train 150 students. The bigger picture shows the overwhelming of putting drones to beneficial use as they will be employed for development and humanitarian uses.
The issue of drones having ubiquitous practical application is the intended goal. Rudolf Schwenk, the country representative for UNICEF in Malawi had this to say, “For example, transporting medical supplies to remote areas or transporting samples very fast, where it will take a lot of time to transport them. We have also worked on emergency preparedness and response because with data and drone imagery, you can see where flooding will happen.”
It is always laudable and plausible where new prevailing technology is used to advance humanity and avert crises. The drone course was brought to life with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University [Virginia Tech]. It would even be more praiseworthy if such a program is also introduced in as many African countries as possible.
An associate professor at Virginia Tech gave an explanation of the course’s components: “We go through three modules in this program. They have gone through drone logistics, drone technologies so they become very functional in drone[s] – not only being pilots, but they operate and maintain the drones as well.”
The enthusiasm expressed by some of the students exudes an encouraging message. Karen Asaba, who developed an interest in drones at Uganda Flying Labs, said that she gets to learn to build one at Malawi’s African Drone and Data Centre.
“Right now, we are learning how to assemble a drone from the start, considering its weight, considering the central gravity, considering the GPS and all the electronics that are involved in making the drone.”
Some students are aiming for even more greater heights. Thumbiko Zingwe harbours dreams of starting an own Malawi space agency, which will be the first.
“I have a vision that I can start a first Malawian space agency, which can be utilizing geo-information for data for different applications. For example, here in Malawi we are so susceptible to floods as a geo-hazardous anomaly.”
Such initiatives in Africa need to be embraced with open arms by the governments and other relevant authorities so that an enabling environment for this technology to fully thrive and benefit African society at a very large scale.
Header image credit - UNICEF