Zimbabwe set for first ever drone conference
Zimbabwe is set to hold the first ever conference on drone technology, which has been scheduled for Harare this November.
Organised by the Drones4Good Network in collaboration with various industry stakeholders, the Drone & UAV Conference is slated to run for two days, starting on November 10; with presentations expected from local as well as international experts, on emerging developments from game-changing world of drone technology.
With origins in the military, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) technology – commonly known as drone technology – has found a niche in commercial and industrial applications that have turned commercial drone manufacturing companies like DJI of China into multi-billion-dollar enterprises with a 70 percent hold on the world commercial drone market.
Today, drone technology has been applied to literally over 100 recreational, industrial and commercial uses that have had the effect of removing people from dangerous work; reducing the number of people needed for certain tasks; reducing the time taken to complete work; replacing more costly methods; and bridging the gap into previously inaccessible locations.
Such applications have been prevalent in several industries, which include agriculture, security, policing, border control, mining, energy, urban planning, telecommunications, disaster and emergency response, logistics, education, healthcare, media production, wildlife conservation, sport, construction, real estate, insurance; among several others.
“Drone technology is set to become the biggest game changer in the fourth industrial revolution,” said Tawanda Chihambakwe, the Managing Director of Zimbabwe Flying Labs, a rising drone and robotics start-up that is part of the of the organisers for the conference. “And it is really imperative that as a country, Zimbabwe does not get left behind by the rest of the world in leveraging the technology to boost its various industries.
“Besides, there are countless employment opportunities spawned by the advent of the drone industry. Drone pilot is a profession that was unheard of a few years ago; but is now one of the fastest growing careers brought by drone technology. The industry is still looking for people to design and build the drones; others to build the software platforms to be used by the UAVs; trainers for drone engineers and pilots… there is a lot of good that drone technology can bring to an economy, which industry stakeholders in Zimbabwe need to know about.”
And, indeed, there is still a lot that Zimbabwe has to learn about UAV technology, which incidentally started gaining traction around 2017 when one of the organisers Tawanda Chihambakwe and a group of friends founded a drone racing community in Harare.
Growth has stalled somewhat since then, though – Zimbabwe has stood by and watched as countries in the Southern African region – Botswana, the DRC, Malawi and Mozambique – set up structures for medical drone deliveries, which has ensured that healthcare products like vaccines and other medical supplies arrive at previously hard to access destinations on time.
Off late, the government has started looking into drone technology to improve the security of its borders.
In the meantime, the delivery drone market especially experienced a boom that defied worldwide lockdown protocols in the past two years, with American drone logistics Zipline just recently celebrating their one-millionth medical delivery. Germany start-up, Wingcopter and Madagascar’s AerialMetric are now working with locally-led Flying Labs; and outside the region, countries like Ghana, Rwanda and Nigeria warming up to the arrival of medical drones over their skies.
“For a young economy like Zimbabwe, drones and their software applications are needed in economy mainstays like mining and agriculture; and for humanitarian causes like disaster management and healthcare,” Chihambakwe says.
According to the World Economic Forum, it is agricultural drones that are likely to have a particularly powerful impact in the developing world, whose mostly smallholder farmers currently face enormous challenges producing quality produce and selling it for a decent price.
Incidentally, agriculture is one of the economic mainstays of the Zimbabwean economy, with a bumper harvest in the last season that has that saw annual economic growth estimates skyrocket to levels not experienced by the country in recent time.
With drones coming into the picture, data analytics for agriculture are becoming more specialised, meeting the specific needs of the agriculture industry. And the features that farmers are seeking from drones depend upon their individual needs, though some common areas are covered; soil analysis, planting, crop monitoring, crop spraying, crop health, and irrigation are some of the most sought-after areas for drone-led inspections and data analysis.
Drones have also changed the technology game for mining, surveying, and mapping, tourism, utility inspection, surveillance, search and rescue missions, crowd control, and public safety, media production, among many other industries. The range of operational convenience they offer for these industries – safety, saving on time and costs, 2D and 3D pictorial presentations; as well as precision of results has seen their commercial applications rising in value.
The conference will also address the legal, privacy, and safety concerns to consider when incorporating drones in an economy’s daily operations, especially when they have to fly in public places.
Representatives from government agencies and ministries are expected to be present on the conference days, as are industry stakeholders from organisations that are set to benefit the most from drones.