16 October 2016

Rwanda: The Drone Comes Home

Photo: Faustin Niyigena/The New Times
A drone which is going soon to fly in Muhanga District.

A while ago, it was all about the Kigali Convention Center and the AU Summit it was to subsequently host in July. That came and went. Now it's all about the trailblazing launch of medical-purpose drones on Friday.

I deliberately choose the term 'drone' because what's the logic in using other names that are less popular and that are usually a mouthful when a single known word could drive the same point home? 'Unmanned Aerial Vehicle' is such a mouthful of a word, and so is Unmanned Aerial Systems. Of course you could cut these mouthfuls of names down to simply UAV or UAS, but the problem is that these shortened names sound closer to car registration numbers than drones.

The military establishment from which these flying robots originate likes to refer to them as Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). So in Rwanda's case, it's somewhat of a sweet irony that an invention that was initially designed with killer motives, one you would say had been created to 'look and then shoot', is instead being deployed to do the exact opposite, which is to save lives. The Rwandan version of drone is here to give, as opposed to spilling blood.

This is why it's no co-incidence that our drones came draped in bright and striking colors, and I guess this was no co-incidence as the message seemed clear; 'Stop killer drones. Let's spread some love (read blood), not war, because war is never nice.' Away from medical utility, the drone first made its first major public appearance locally at the annual gorilla naming ceremony - Kwita Izina in Kinigi, Musanze in 2014.

A Nigerian TV crew had brought it in to capture superb aerial footage of the ceremony. And the stampede and air of confusion that resulted from the machine's overhead maneuvers would ensure that most talk about the ceremony was about the 'small helicopter' as many people knew it. Many admitted it was their first time to see 'such a small helicopter'.

And hardly was anybody in the crowd aware that, two years from then, a next set of drones would emerge on the country's horizon, only this time for a different, nobler cause. Speaking at the launch of the project in Muhanga district in the Southern Province on Friday, President Paul Kagame explained something that caught my own ears -that drone technology had the potential to transform business in a wide spectrum of sectors, not just health. And for a start, here's my modest suggestion; The good folks at Hellofood Rwanda, who are tasked with delivering food to people either too lazy to walk to a restaurant or too lazy to cook or both, should now seriously consider drone deliveries of food orders to we, their esteemed clients.

Of course this would be an ambitious and expensive undertaking, so for a start I would suggest they begin with one or two drones that would make quicker deliveries to clients that order for expensive food. Like if I'm going to pay a cool Rw f 25,000 for sea food like I did a while ago at the Century Restaurant in Nyarutarama, it had better be delivered by drone. The motor taxis should be condemned to deliveries of only brochette orders to clients in dusty, inaccessible suburban locations.

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