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Avy and Drones for Africa in Botswana
Avy24 01 243 min read

Avy and Drones for Africa in Botswana

In July we received a request from a leading drone operator in Botswana inviting us to bring a crew and an Aera 3 to take part in a series of proof-of-concept flights across the country. The operator (Drones for Africa) specialises in drone operations for the agriculture and construction industries while also providing training and consulting services. The flights were an opportunity for them to see our technology in action and learn about BVLOS operations while we saw it as a chance to prove the effectiveness of drone networks in the African context.

The trip required us to travel to 3 locations and demonstrate our technology across 3 applications:

  1. We flew over Gaborone, demonstrating the use of our AirAware gimbal camera for emergency response operations
  2. We flew in the Okavango delta, proving the viability of a logistics network in remote regions
  3. We flew over significant infrastructure in Jwaneng, demonstrating the AirAware camera's ability to provide visuals for both perimeter monitoring and infrastructure inspection

Emergency Response in Gaborone:

The first flights in Gaborone required our pilots to provide situational awareness via the gimbal camera at predetermined check-points that were shared with us on the day of the operation. In total 4 flights took place:

  • The first was a test flight to validate the network performance (enabling us to communicate with the drone) and test the aircraft's base performance.
  • The second flight covered 22km and took us towards the Botswana / South African border, passing over the predetermined check-points.
  • The third flight was 32km and included multiple ad-hoc "go-to's" aimed at demonstrating the pilot's ability to intervene during a mission. The Aera 3 demonstrated its ability to loiter over a location with the gimbal locking onto a geo-location or tracking a moving object.
  • The final flight was a hover at night to demonstrate the AirAware camera's thermal camera capabilities.

Logistics Network validation in Shakawe:

After a 13 hour drive up to the Okavango delta, our next port of call with Drones for Africa was to prove the viability of a logistics network by completing multiple flights between the rural towns and villages. Because of the state of the roads and the size of the delta, it was believed that strategically placed drone logistics nodes would be more efficient, sustainable and safer than the current road logistics system. The objective was to complete 3 flights between strategic locations to simulate the logistics network.

  • Flight 1: This was a 55km BVLOS flight along the A35 road between Shakawe and Sepupa. While the Aera 3 coped well with the calm crosswinds, we realised that strong headwinds would make the route challenging given the extreme heat and high altitude (i.e. density altitude of 6000 ft).
  • Flight 2 and 3: These took place the day after the first flight and happened across the delta from Sepupa to Seronga (and then back again). A ground crew was placed at Seronga where the payload was removed from the drone and a new battery inserted before the drone returned back to Sepupa.

Despite the distances and the high temperatures, the flights were a success. Drones for Africa are currently working with their partners to take the next steps towards establishing a drone logistics network in the delta.

Monitoring and inspection in Jwaneng:

The final flight took us to Jwaneng, just outside Gaborone. The primary purpose of this flight was to demonstrate the functionality of the AirAware gimbal camera. Despite having minimal time to plan the flight, we completed a short BVLOS flight over open bush. Even though mobile coverage in the area was poor and multiple connection drop-outs occurred, we still included multiple ad-hoc "go-to's" and were even able to spot and track animals through the use of the thermal camera feature.

Overall, we spent a very fruitful three weeks in Botswana, collaborating with Drones for Africa to complete the 3 proof-of-concept operations. Drones for Africa came away with a thorough understanding of our technology and BVLOS procedures and we are currently working on next steps for our partnership in southern Africa. We learnt valuable lessons about operating in extreme heat and at altitudes we don't have access to in Amsterdam. This has provided the team with data and insights that will  inform our product roadmap and design process going forward.

We are very grateful and would like to say a heartfelt “thank you” to Drones for Africa and the Botswana Civil Aviation Authority. Lookout for next steps being announced with Drones for Africa!