Flying Donkeys in Rwanda – Africa’s first country to introduce “cargo drones”

Rwanda may become the first African country to develop a network of “droneports” designed to deliver urgent cargo to remote parts of the country using small drones that can carry up to 10kg.

Firm Foster, a London-based architecture firm and Afrotech, an African technology institute in Switzerland are at the forefront of the pioneering project.

Africa notoriously lacks a reliable transport infrastructure, creating a gap for these so–called “ghost railways in the sky.” To implement transport of this kind on land would require $93 billion a year, compared to this project’s $6 million a year over a 4-year period.

The project is taking a “humanitarian route” according to Professor Jim Scanland of the University of Southampton. He explains, “If there is a humanitarian dimension, like a need to get supplies to people in the event of a conflict or an earthquake, then it is harder for a government to disagree.”

The drones will initially have a three-meter wingspan and be able to carry up to 10kg of cargo. Within a decade, this could increase by ten times the original weight.

By 2020, the project intends to have three droneports, covering half of Rwanda and eventually allowing for expansion into surrounding countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Amazon has recently been pressing for similar technology in the US to no avail. Africa’s unique combination of uncongested skies and shaky transport infrastructure make this the most feasible country for technology of this kind.

Jonathan Ledgard, the director of Afrotech suggests that the first droneports could be completed by 2018, insisting that this is “accelerated technology.”

What consumers will use the drones for has not been defined by the developers, with Ledgard saying that it is up to the service users themselves what they use them for.

Before 2020, the Flying Donkey Challenge will take place at Mount Kenya, where some of the world’s leading engineers will win substantial grants for their efforts in advancing the safety, durability and legality of the drones.

With inventions like this, mobile money and other innovations happening in the Silicon Savannah, tech innovation in Africa is moving at an incredible pace. Technology that would once only be dreamed up in a Sci-fi is now becoming a reality. What could possibly be next?

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