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Opportunities in drone applications for Nigeria and other African countries

Like them or hate them, Drones are certainly here to stay. A drone-mania is taking over the world by storm and the frenzy is not likely to stop anytime soon. In the United States, several giant companies (Amazon, DHL) and start-up are currently exploring business opportunities in commercial drone applications.

Drones are not new. In fact, they have existed for the past two decades and just like the Internet, they have been used for years by the military but are now recently finding new love in commercial sector. They were earlier called unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), but now known as drones in the mainstream. they have been used for several years by the military during rescue and recovery mission and reports have shown that drones have recently been used against the Boko Haram insurgent in the northern part of Nigeria (#BringBackOurGirls).

Recently I read a post about Dickens Olewe, a Kenyan Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University who interviewed with BBC on how drones can be effectively used in Journalism. The interview got me thinking about drones and other interesting ways we can use them in Africa for positive economic developments. In this post, I’m give short nuggets on how Nigeria and other African countries can exploit the use of drones for commercial applications.

Drones in Oil and Gas and Energy Industry

Pipeline vandalization and oil theft are words all too common in oil-producing countries in Africa. Oil pipelines can extend over several hundreds of kilometers. One way to monitor the oil facility is to station military patrol in rovers or helicopters which obviously requires huge financial investment and personnel. With drones, it’s all too easy and cheaper to a fraction of conventional military police patrol cost. Drones can be used for pipeline surveillance and monitoring, oil pipeline crack and leak detection (assuming the pipelines are fitted with pressure sensor), drones can be used to inspect oil spill and contain pollution. They can even be used to administer dispersant or biological agents in case of oil spillage (Hello Niger-delta). Drones can also be used for power line inspection and facilitate detailed fault reporting.

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Drones in Broadcasting & Media

Drones will find extreme usage in television broadcasting for forward-thinking adventurous media companies. In drone journalism, drones can be mounted with mini HD-cameras with wireless transmission capability for recording and transmission of video footage. Documentary journalist can use drones for filming in hard-to-reach locations, other areas of application may include event coverage, live news reporting, aerial photography, traffic jam coverage, etc. Drones can be used to cover events in real-time at sensitive locations that may prove hazardous to reporter. think Ebola, natural disasters, flooding, accidents, etc

Drones in Agriculture & Wildlife

wildlife_conservation_drones

Drones have a strong role in wildlife monitoring and preservation and they are already being used to monitor endangered species in Nepal, Congo and Kenya. With worldwide trade in illegal ivory and fur booming, many species of elephant, rhinos and bigger predators are closer than ever to extinction. one of the primary reasons for this is the booming ivory trade in Asia. Despite it being well known that rhino horn is made of keratin, the same substance found in human hair and fingernails, many people across China and Vietnam believe it to be a panacea capable of curing everything from erectile dysfunction to cancer. I strongly believe drones can help authorities take on the fight against poachers and illegal hunting in wildlife designated areas. In the breath-taken video below, watch how drones were able to get close to those predator animals than any many could attempt.

Drones, instead of helicopters can also be effectively used in agriculture to spray insecticides, pesticides or other organic chemicals and toxins (that could otherwise be harmful to man) on a wide geographic area. Drones can be used to monitor crops for early disease detection, fertilization, harvest inspection and monitoring.

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Drones in eCommerce & Goods Delivery

While drone deliveries may take some time to take-off in large urban cities, it may come really soon and rapidly so in developing world in mot African countries where delivery of goods and medical supplies like blood, time-sensitive test samples, etc are required. Reports has shown that drones delivery is picking up in countries like China and Australia while some rapid development are also expected in the United State in 2015. For example, Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant recently conducted its first trial drone deliveries in Beijing, China while Amazon and other US companies are also expected to follow suit once the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) gives the green light.

Drones in Infrastructure Maintenance

From commercial to civilian infrastructure, drones can be cheaply used for inspection and maintenance. For example, when telecommunication companies commission a new site/mast several hundred meter high, a drone can be used to offer a detail, high-resolution closed inspection at commissioning and during maintenance instead of a climber. Similarly, a newly completed and commissioned road network can be viewed from different angles by using drones fitted with light weight HD mini camera with on board storage or streaming video capability. All the needed technology are available and cheap. Other applications may include highrise building roof inspection, terrain and land elevation mapping, survey and exploratory mission.

Drone Security, Privacy & Safety

In cities in most developed countries, there are tall building and skyscrapers with several hundreds of other drones possibly orbiting around the same locations with high possibility of collisions and crashes. Imagine DHL/Amazon delivery drones colliding with Pizza delivery drones. Imagine crowd of people walking below or drones crashing into school areas.

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In July this year a pilot of a British Airways operated Airbus A320 with 180 people aboard spotted a remotely piloted quadcopter dangerously close to the plane while approaching the runway at London’s Heathrow Airport. The UK Airprox Board said the drone, flying at 700ft, was invisible to air-traffic control radars, and its owner was never identified. The incident, rated as an A on a five point scale, meaning the highest level of collision risk, sparked a flurry of voices calling for stricter regulations and better technology to control the booming UAV sector.

In the coming years, unmanned aircraft will help save lives after natural disasters. They will help search-and-rescue teams find lost hikers and allow police forces that cannot afford manned helicopters to get vital, potentially lifesaving overhead imagery during hostage standoffs. When used safely and in a way respecting privacy, domestic UAS can become important tools for private citizens, firefighters, scientists, news reporters, filmmakers, and others to more effectively see the world around them.

Nigerian airspace is not heavily regulated as the United States. Security and safety issues notwithstanding, drones in commercial space have come to stay, and it is important African developers and engineers get into the space to figure out how to creatively use the technology. Maybe, just maybe, a new crop of drone-startup and entrepreneurs may emerge in Africa.

By @RichardAfolabi

I'm a thinker, teacher, writer, Python enthusiast, Wireless Engineer, Web geek and a solid Chelsea FC Fan. I'm interested in data science, analytics, visualization and data intelligence. Feel free to get in touch.