Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) could help to overcome poor transport infrastructure, as only one-third of Africans live within 2 kilometers of an all-weather road.
Making sure that the remaining two-thirds have access to decent roads will cost more than R736.4bn and take several years, which is why Africa has been a pioneer in using drones for peaceful civilian use.
Timothy Reuter, Head of Aerospace and Drones at the World Economic Forum was part of a panel discussion on unleashing the drone economy at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town.
He asserts that increasing drone use in Africa does not only bring great benefits to business, agriculture and the health sector “but quite literally save lives by taking deliveries off the roads and into the sky.”
“To unleash this potential, new policies need to be put in place that safely open the skies to drones as most African countries do not yet permit the most beneficial applications,” he said.
Conor French, the General Counsel for Zipline International Incorporated said Zipline had already made 19,472 deliveries without a single accident after starting to make deliveries of blood products in Rwanda in 2016.
A third of these involved emergency deliveries.
Valerie Guarnieri, the assistant executive director at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said drones has been a vital part of the disaster relief response in Mozambique after Cyclone Idai, as the UAVs allowed the WFP to assess which roads were still passable and which were not, so that they could plan their routes for the trucks taking food to starving survivors.
“Drones can help with three vital functions after a disaster such as a tropical storm or earthquake. The first is imagery as that will allow us to assess the extent of damage to infrastructure.
“The second is connectivity as drones can act as relay stations when cellphone masts have been disabled. The third is delivery as we can get critical supplies to areas until roads have been restored,” she said.
However, the problem is that three-quarters of African governments have no regulations regarding drones.