How can I capitalise on the growth of drone technology?

Across the continent, people are constantly discovering new uses for drones, either to add value to their existing businesses, or as the backbone of start-ups.

In Africa, there are problems and opportunities that can be addressed uniquely by drones, and while still a nascent technology, these flying machines seem to have a bright future as countries and their policymakers warm up to the idea.

Here are some drone-enabled businesses that are putting this burgeoning technology to good use.

  1. Logistics

Given Africa’s underdeveloped transport networks, drone-based logistics could be a lucrative opportunity. Already considerable investment has been flowing into such ventures.

A project led by Afrotech (an African technology initiative by a Swiss research university) and Foster + Partners (a London-based architecture firm) in Rwanda is set to become the world’s first commercial drone airport.

The port, which consists of three buildings, is expected to be completed by 2020, and will serve as a hub from where drones can deliver medical and emergency supplies, as well as e-commerce purchases and items such as spare parts.

The density of road networks is incredibly poor in most African countries. And what that means is that secondary towns of 20,000 to 100,000 people are not connected to other towns unless they happen to be along the route to a capital city,” says Jonathan Ledgard, director of Afrotech.

With the ability to cover long distances (depending on the type of drone), operators that wish to occupy a country’s airspace will need to abide by its regulations. However, those countries that do allow drone delivery, such as Ghana, are looking to amend regulations to make them more commercially friendly.

  1. Aerial data collection and surveying

Images captured by a drone can help with planning and decisions. For instance, a South African data collection company, RocketMine, offers services using drone-based aerial photogrammetry. How it works is that photographs taken from a bird’s eye view are used to record data (like measurements) of a workspace or inaccessible area – a mine or construction site, for example. The data can then be used to generate 3D models or index maps.

Another example is London-based agriculture advisor GMX Consulting, which earlier this year launched a drone-based farming service to help reduce the time and cost of surveying farmland in Africa. When it comes to surveying larger properties, like farms, drones can do in days what normally takes months by foot.

Data collection for bridge maintenance, for example, which used to take half a day – and risked an employee’s safety – is reduced to 30 minutes of drone airtime, with more accurate results.

Other tasks include infrared scanning of crops to detect disease, thermal mapping, overseeing projects, and creating ‘orthomosaics’ (drone-captured images stitched together).

The drone gave us a very good overview of the sloping nature of the soil… So they helped us change our hypothesis. It could have been changed by us continuing with the traditional method of surveying, but that would take much longer to do,” says Quan Le, managing director of GMX Consulting.

  1. Advertising

Aeroshutter, a Ghanaian start-up, offers drone-based advertising in addition to its photography and surveillance services. Advertising space (Aero Ads) can be rented in the form of banners attached to drones which, as well as reaching places stationary and aeroplane ads cannot, attract attention as a unique concept. DroneCast, a US company, offers similar solutions. Their drones, which vary in size, can be used for advertising at indoor and outdoor events, and can act as a defining feature at promotional giveaways, dropping prizes into the crowd.