South Africa Flying Labs catching them young

They may have officially come to life only in March this year, but South Africa Flying Labs – the latest offspring from WeRobotics’ family of start-up drone and robotics service providers in the Global South – are burning the midnight oil in catching up with their older siblings in making a positive technological impact in society.

Especially when it comes to children’s involvement with drone and robotics technology.

Barely a week had passed after they gathered a group of kids aged between around nine years to introduce them to the fun world of drones than they held another gathering, with teenage girls this time, at Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Johannesburg.

The girls got to have their own fingers on the pulse during live drone demonstrations, when they took turns to push buttons on the remote control of a drone in flight.

But before the fun began, Jack Shilubana, South Africa Flying Labs’ Operations Director took them through an abridged catalogue of all the industrial applications drones can be used for; agriculture, delivery, construction, mining and security being among them.

“By conducting these training sessions with the children, our hope as Flying Labs is that they will have their choices for career opportunities widened by the possibility of them choosing the drone industry,” Shilubana said on the sidelines of the workshop. “The world we live in today is being disrupted by technology every day; and the jobs that will occupy these children in their adult lives may not even exist today.

“We want them to be prepared for such a disruptive future; and also hope that – through these early technological seeds we are planting – they will grow up to be the disruptors themselves and lead technological innovation from the front.”

In that vein, Shilubana impressed upon the kids that they could hop on board the drone technology train by becoming drone pilots, drone operators, be the brains behind the drone themselves by building them; or work behind the scenes by providing the software support that drones need to stay in the air.

The drone space is fast becoming such a big industry to work in, with opportunities opening up every time, even at this time when experts agree that the industry is yet unlock its full capacity.

There are still a lot of legal obstacles to overcome everywhere in the world; as Shilubana told his students, integrating drones into the airspaces previously dominated by only birds and manned aircraft has been met with reactions that range from cautious optimism to outright hostility. Some countries have placed blanket bans on drone technology within their borders, while even the ones with the friendliest of drone legislation have been hesitant to unleash the autonomous birds into the air without a thorough understanding of what they can do.

It was because of this reality that the Flying Labs coordinators took their students on a crush course through the drone technology legalese – teaching the kids about drone registrations, drone pilot licence acquisition, the need for an operating certificate; and knowing which areas are prohibited, restricted, or rendered too dangerous to fly drones into.

“Going forward, we want to bridge the digital divide that currently exist between corporate executives and our children in schools today,” said Queen Ndlovu, the managing Director at South Africa Flying Labs. “It is the executives who are today responsible for researching on the value of drone technology before integrating them into their organisational operations; and it is the adults today who should work on the drone regulatory space so that the upcoming kids will not have to start afresh on everything when they come of age.

“Our country is still at the foot of the hill when it comes to adoption of drone technology. We still have a lot to do, and as South Africa Flying Labs, we will take the drone gospel to all corners, especially to rural parts of the country, where such opportunities are rare.”

After the lessons, the students went outside where Bradley Harvey, the founder of Droneparts introduced to the practicalities of drone flight, after which they were also introduced to coding by Project Coordinator, Lindokuhle Tshuma.


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