What’s on your radar?

Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is a common feature on the evolving technology landscape. Any talk of 4IR must include the buzzing robotic insect that can cast its eye over all and anything.

The Austrians were one of the first recorded users of drones. In 1849, they sent 200 unmanned bomb-filled balloons against the city of Venice. The practice of aerial surveillance emerged later in the 1898 Spanish-American War where the US military placed a camera to a kite, producing one of the first aerial reconnaissance images.

From 2010 onwards, drones for both commercial and personal use in the global market, grew significantly. These days they are used for capturing great footage for marketing purposes, delivery of food and medicines, search and rescue operations, process monitoring in the agriculture and maritime sectors, and many other uses.

One of the core focus areas at this year’s BRICS 2018 Future Skills Challenge was Drone Technology. Teams from within the BRICS member countries, came togther to build a drone from scratch. With 639 drone startups currently listed on the US based Angelist, with a valuation of $4.8 million, the appetite for this business opportunity is evident.

The Drone Use Case for Agriculture

At the start of the crop cycle, drones and mapping systems are highly instrumental in producing precise 3D maps for early soil analysis. This can highlight soil, irrigation and infestation issues to farmers. The data collected can also guide irrigation and nitrogen management. Farmers with vast field of crops face the challenge of low efficiency in monitoring crops. Drones help produce time series animations that can show the precise development of crops and reveal production inefficiencies enabling better crop management.

Across the world, farmers and industry are proactively embracing drone technology for better crop yield:

  • At Nairobi Innovation Week held in early 2018, Astral Aerial showcased their drone technology for farmers.
  • The African Development Bank along with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are mobilising $1 billion to increase Agriculture technologies throughout Africa. Drone technology seems to be leading this revolution.
  • Drone companies showcased their agricultural prowess at the Agritex Exhibition in Hyderabad, India earlier this month. From aerial pesticide spraying to aerial surveying solutions on farms, a variety of options were showcased to revolutionise the Indian farmer’s business.
  • A £2.1m government-funded research project called the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed is now being carried out by Kingston University in the UK. The University’s Robot Vision team will be using this technology to carry out real time video monitoring and surveillance on farms – opening up new opportunities for increasing efficiency and productivity in the agricultural industry.

Drone Use Cases in other instances

Ethiopia has become the third African country to introduce drone delivery of medical suppliers to remote parts of the country. They follow the examples of Malawi and Rwanda in launching this initiative. The Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology has invested four million Birr ($144,990) for the pilot project. This is expected to be completed by the end of the year, which will fully kickstart the programme.

Drone Technology was also a key part of the dialogue at the Electra Mining Africa 2018 as an exploration technology. This is in light of Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe’s announcement in August of a R20 billion ten year plan to boost exploration in the country.

The Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development earlier this year launched a drone to monitor and collect data on construction projects in the province. MEC Jacob Mamabolo was getting frustrated with projects running over time and budgets, and with officials lying about project progress.

Official estimated that no less than 5 drones would be sent out to monitor construction sites. Interns at the Department were trained to control the drones.

South African regulation on flying drones

The South African Civil Aviation Authority initially clamped down on drones operating in South African airspace. With the rapidly expanding industry, the Aviation Authority has collaborated with drone industry leaders and formulated regulations for the legal use of drones.

The Aviation Authority has also provided definitions for:

  • Remotely piloted aircrafts: unmanned aircraft piloted from remote pilot station
  • Toy aircraft: aircraft designed or intended for use in play by children
  • Model aircraft: non-human carrying aircraft capable of sustained flight and used exclusively for recreational use and air display

A drone which qualifies as a ‘remotely piloted aircraft’ is not allowed to fly or be:

  • Near manned aircraft
  • 10 km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield)
  • Weighing more than 7 kg
  • In controlled airspace
  • In restricted airspace
  • In prohibited airspace.

Drone Technology is continually flying to new heights as new use cases are discovered to bring efficiency and ease across many industries.

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