Four days until #DUACon2021

It is looks set to be a really important week for the drone community in Southern Africa, with the Drones and Unmanned Aviation Conference (dubbed the DUA Con) just four days away.

To be held on the 24th and 25th of June in Johannesburg, the conference looks set to be an important barometer of how much progress drone technology has taken in the past year, especially considering the adversity of the COVID-19 pandemic that turned the world upside down and spawned application opportunities for drone technology that might have taken years to reveal themselves.

Medical drones were already bulldozing their way to becoming a real positive force to be reckoned with, starting in Rwanda and spreading to many an African country with the majority of its rural population resident in rural areas, where healthcare facilities can be far removed from people, and the state of the road networks usually depend on the weather – impassable during the rainy season and slow in the other drier seasons.

But the virulent spread of the corona virus had drones taking on tasks they had not prepared for – first, urgently transporting protective COVID-19 gear like masks and other PPE to healthcare workers in rural parts of Africa; then helping other forms of transportation in quickly distributing vaccines so the world can return to a semblance of normality as quickly as possible.

One of the drone companies involved in these services, German drone manufacturer Wingcopter, will be sharing insights on the medical drone delivery experience. Wingcopter has been operating in Malawi since 2018, was there at the beginning with the Malawi government and UNICEF when the Africa Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) – the only drone institution in Africa thus far – first opened its doors in January 2020.

Their presentation and experience insights are sure to resonate with public and private emergency health and other healthcare providers in the region, who are looking for ways to improve health care delivery for their communities. Although they chose a different drone partner from Wingcopter, the Botswana government took the plunge and introduced a medical drone delivery pilot project to plug worrying rates of maternal mortality; but with hopes the project will spread to a nationwide service for general medical delivery in a few years.

Besides, Wingcopter will be addressing a subject that has certainly been brought to the fore by the tragically disruptive interruption of the corona virus pandemic into people’s everyday lives – the question of how fast drone technology can help in distributing vaccines to the very last mile where they are needed.

Vaccine distribution in Africa has no doubt been complicated by many factors – the very availability of the inoculations being one of the major issues – but the question of transport has also played its part. It is what made Ghana proud a few months back, when it was reported that the country quickly snapped up its share of the COVAX facility vaccines and had them in people’s bloodstreams in a matter of weeks; partly due to the efficiency of Zipline in its last mile delivery speed, which saw the company delivering 11,000 vaccines in just three days.

Mr Miller has promised a nice surprise…

The conference will also hear from the Drone Council of South Africa, a drone body that came into existence at the most opportune time in July last year when the need for drone technology – chiefly with regards to spreading information about the pandemic – could not be greater. The council is working hard to bridge the gap between policy makers in government and players in the drone industry who are hoping that aviation regulators relax some of the legislation that drone stakeholders feel is holding back the industry’s potential to become an economic force in the country and the region.

Enjoying the support of South Africa’s Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies (it was Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams who officially declared the DCSA open for business at the July 2020 virtual ceremony), the feedback from the council on the progress it is making in promoting the drone economy will be critical on where the industry is headed in the short and medium term.

Besides the presentation from Wingcopter, there will be further international representation from the USA (with drone diva Desiree Ekstein tough on drone regulation) and Belgium, from where Tom Verbruggen’s Idronect drone management platform is making waves that have reached into Africa.

Other speakers will comprise the indefatigable Kim James whose stack as a drone evangelist is rising to match that of Romeo Durscher (who almost single-handedly brought public safety drones to the forefront during his days at DJI); Queen Ndlovu (whose advocacy for local drone innovation through the Flying Labs network is one to look out for); Ajay Harduth from Rocketmine; Robert Miller, who will bring new meaning to wildlife conservation drones; Sam Twala (Ntsu Aviation); Dean Polley (SASS); Jack Shilubana (Ntiyiso Consulting); Tim Wise (PACSys) Jacques Coetzee (GoUAV); Bertus van Zyl (UAV Aerial Works; Wayne Dawson (Standard Bank; he knows about security drones); and Dave Rampersad from Dahua Technology.

Prospective delegates can still register for the event here.

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