Renowned British architect, Lord Norman Foster, recently launched proposals for a Droneport project in Rwanda to support cargo drone routes capable of delivering urgent supplies to remote areas on a massive scale. The structure will serve as a hub for the transportation of medical supplies to places that are inaccessible by road via pilotless aircrafts and will also bring other services such as a health clinic, a post and courier room, a drone manufacturing centre, and an e-commerce trading hub, allowing it to become part of local community life.
It is estimated that only a third of Africans live within two kilometres of an all-season road, and there are no continental motorways, almost no tunnels, and not enough bridges that can reach people living in far-flung areas of the continent, hence the need for the droneport. Also, the port will save hundreds of thousands of lives of anaemic people, the treatment for which requires regular and safe blood transfusion.
Specialist drones can carry blood and life-saving supplies over 100 kilometres at minimal cost, which is an affordable alternative to complement road-based deliveries. “Africa is a continent where the gap between the population and infrastructural growth is increasing exponentially. The dearth of terrestrial infrastructure has a direct impact on the ability to deliver life-giving supplies, indeed where something as basic as blood is not always available for timely treatment. We require immediate bold, radical solutions to address this issue,” said Lord Foster.
Two parallel networks are planned for droneport transportation, the Redline for delivering medical supplies, such as units of blood, along an 80 kilometre route between several towns and villages, while the Blueline will operate a more conventional delivery service, transporting crucial larger payloads such as spare parts, electronics, and e-commerce, complementing and subsidising the Redline network.
Capitalising on the recent advancement in drone tech – which is widely surveillance and war centred – the droneport project is about doing ‘more with less’, to make a live saving impact in Africa. “Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the Droneport project. This project can have massive impact through the century and save lives immediately.”
Construction on this innovative structure, which is part of the vast Red Line project led by Afrotech, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), is set to begin next year, and will be completed in 2020. The project will then be expanded to other countries in Africa, “We’re aiming for the project to spread across the continent, creating connectivity in countries that are less connected than Rwanda,” says Lead designer Narinder Sagoo.
However, as noble and exciting as this sounds, some people believe the droneport project has an over the top structure, and is a waste of time. Critics have labelled the award winning architect an attention seeker, questioning the use of drones over simple traditional methods – motorcycle with saddlebags – for delivering supplies.
Others question the risk of introducing sophisticated technology into third world countries and transporting drugs via unmanned vehicles.
What do you think of Norman Foster’s droneport project?