ADDA, Alti-UAS awarded for humanitarian excellence

Today we pay tribute to the Malawi-based African Drone and Data Academy and South Africa’s Alti-Unmanned Aerial Systems, which were recently named among the winners for this year’s XCELLENCE Humanitarian and Public Safety Awards, given by the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) last month.

Based in, USA, AUVSI is the world’s largest non-profit organisation dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics, and represents corporations and professionals from more than 60 countries involved in industry, government and academia.

Winners of the AUVSI awards were announced last month at the organisation’s annual conference, AUVSI XPONENTIAL.

“Six organisations pioneering new ways to use drones for good were recognised during an awards ceremony at AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2021” said Brian Wynne, AUVSI President and CEO. “These organisations responded to the challenges brought forward due to the global COVID-19 situation by bringing to light even more critical safety uses for UAS.

“They proved that UAS are the future of not just commerce and the economy but are also becoming the primary tools relied on for disaster relief, firefighting, and other critical public safety and health emergencies.

“The recipients of the 2021 AUVSI XCELLENCE Humanitarian and Public Safety Awards have established themselves as leaders in the application of drones as solutions-providers. Each awards category recognises three organisations or individuals that have made a significant impact using unmanned systems to serve in humanitarian or public safety efforts.”

Besides ADDA and Ulti-UAS, another winner of the Humanitarian award was MissionGo Aerial Systems, a Maryland, USA drone logistics company which has been making trials for delivering vital organs in the USA.

Last year, the company successfully transported a kidney across the Nevada desert.

The Public Safety gongs went to the USA Department of Homeland Security FEMA (Region IV), Easy Aerial’s Smart Air Force Aerial Monitoring System; and the International Emergency Drone Organization’s (IEDO) Best Drone Practices Report for Fire.

The six winners shared $6,000 for their troubles.

Upon being announced as winner, Alti-UAS could not hide their pleasure.

“We are proud to be announced as the first-place winner in the AUVSI Xcellence Humanitarian Project Award for our long-term conservation project, Operation Blacktip – ALTI Flying in Misool,” the South African company said. “The ultimate purpose of the Misool Project, the Misool Eco Resort, and Operation Blacktip (as ALTI calls it) is to protect the marine area that has been declared a no-take zone for illegal activity.

“Having the ability to take-off and land vertically is the key to what makes this project possible. Multi-rotors do not have enough range or endurance, but with ALTI VTOL aircraft, we can take-off from a very small area and land safely, while covering a larger area of surveillance in one flight.”

As for ADDA, the academy opened its doors last January, when UNICEF partnered with Virginia Tech University to provide African youth with drone, data, and entrepreneurship skills as a response to the continent’s development needs.

Congratulations to Alti-UAS

The main course – given on a full scholarship in collaboration with Malawi University of Science and Technology – is a ten-week undertaking, where students selected from all over the continent learn not only how to construct, test, and fly drones, but also to analyse drone imagery and data.

Drone technology can be used to address a number of humanitarian needs in the areas of health, agriculture, and the environment.

“All around the world, we see mobility and data access as critical elements to achieving higher standards of living,” said Kevin Kochersberger, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and head of the ADDA. “Drones have become the go-to resource to support these areas, especially in regions with limited infrastructure. Winning this award recognises the value of the program to our graduates and the communities they serve.”

Owing to the travel restrictions imposed by many countries in an effort to fight the spread of COVID-19, ADDA has had to offer some of its courses online of late, with in-person students only coming from the home country, Malawi (the latest cohort of which graduated just recently). The academy hopes to open its doors to the rest of Africa as soon as the situation on the ground gets better.

Before the pandemic hit, ADDA had been host to 316 students from 23 African countries.

Most of these students, like Kamunga Regeza (originally from the DRC) and Sierra Leone’s Hafsatu Sesay have gone to start successful drone enterprises. Sesay works with his home government as a drone technical lead under the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation, and helps facilitate development of the drone ecosystem, including use of the UNICEF-funded humanitarian drone testing corridor (which is in Malawi).

The corridor allows companies from all over the world to test their humanitarian solutions for emergency medical deliveries, search and rescue, and mapping for predictive analysis.

“Graduates of our program are fundamentally improving their local communities through careers in emergency medical deliveries, precision agriculture, urban planning, climate change, and anti-poaching,” ADDA project manager in Malawi, Brian Kamamia told Virginia Tech recently.

“Furthermore, through predictive analysis such as flood modelling and land use analysis, our graduates are able to better prepare their local communities for natural disasters and disease outbreaks. The 21st-century skills acquired from ADDA are crucial in promoting and ensuring sustainable growth across the African continent.”

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