Endeva’s Wakanda Beyond Challenge to tackle African drone issues

After calling for applications from expert organisations and individuals to bring forward their solutions to the drone policy conundrum in Africa, the Inclusive Innovation 2030 (ii2030) has returned with what it calls the Wakanda Beyond Challenge, which it is confident will address ecosystem challenges and identify cost-efficient African-driven solutions to drone technology problems on the continent.

Yea; we know – they just named a proposed solution to a fictional African country that previously only had a home in comic books, before it exploded into popular culture, thanks to the 2018 super-hero movie, Black Panther. The organisers said they settled on the name because it expressed the hopes of a new beginning for the African technology landscape.

“Wakanda is a reference to the aspiration for the challenge to influence the development of new and future-fit regulations that go beyond what exists today and enables Africa to become a world leader in smart, tech-enabled regulations for BVLOS operations,” said the organiser, Endeva, in its content notes. “The Wakanda Beyond Challenge (WBC) seeks to accelerate the evolution of regionally aligned, fit-for-purpose drone regulations and regulatory approval processes that are collaboratively created and enhanced by technology.”

In doing this, the new WBC will rope in the cooperation of country and regional aviation regulators, drone operators and technology partners (which they refer to as The Network), who will be charged with the unenviable task of looking at impediments to technology adoption, to emerge with acceptable solutions that can walk the fine line between different socio-political minefields and still be able to promote the growth of drone technology in Africa.

As of now, the network has drone technology industry players that include Endeva, UNICEF, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for Payload Delivery Working Group (UPDWG), VillageReach, the African Drone Forum, Lifebank, Swoop Aero, Micromek and Idronect.

Their proposals will be put under test in real life situations in low-risk locations, the first of which could be in Ethiopia, Kenya or Malawi.

“Once the solutions have been tested, they will be evaluated by the network on key criteria including safety benefits, easier operations, cost-effectiveness and community perceptions,” the concept note said. “The best ones will receive a quality approval. The Network will collectively publish a Wakanda Beyond Guidance Note Series, which will highlight the findings from the challenges. These notes will explain the solution, how it works, its cost implications, requirements, benefits, trade-offs and impact on regulations and regulatory processes. In addition, a generalized note with learnings from unsuccessful solutions will also be published per challenge. This note will provide helpful earnings to guide further improvements.”

It is a little concerning though, that some authorities in Africa still need convincing about making it easier for drone technology into their economies, even in the light of how useful drones have been in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic.

And while the authorities in Africa are still making their minds up, the European Union passed legislation that would make it easier for flying drones across the union months ago. And while we do understand that the drone space is a new industry where everybody is still feeling their way around – and it is remarkable that governments are even willing to consider the concept of drone technology as an industry – it would be hurt to remember the progress drones have already made in the developed world, and to understand that industry players can chart the same way for Africa and develop a drone value chain whose input into the economy is valuable.

On paper, the Network for the WBC if full of experienced voices that have been working the African drone technology space for some time now, and are well versed with the challenges dragging the industry down. They are likely to start throwing around ideas in the new year, and hopefully, those ideas will see the light of day in time so we don’t lag behind too much.

The good thing is we already know what the challenges are.  

The ii2030 Africa4Future edition was sponsored by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and it focused on three areas – agriculture, infrastructure and drone technology.


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