Rwanda has already established itself in drone news. The country planned one of the world’s first drone ports, and has established one of the first working models of drone delivery of medical supplies, with their partner Zipline. The country has already established regulations for drones, and is taking a leadership position in the region for utilizing drone technology.
Now, drone mapping company Pix4D has partnered with educators in Rwanda to help provide training in drone photogrammetry.
The Netherlands sponsors continued education events like this one for former students of Dutch institutes, and for 2016 the University of Twente organized a course in Rwanda on the latest drone mapping techniques. “My impression is that there is a huge market in Africa at the moment,” said Francesco Nex, assistant professor at the ITC Faculty, University of Twente. “They are growing very fast, with a shortage of surveying and maps available.” Nex taught photogrammetry for an applied drone mapping training at the INES-Ruhengeri Institute in Rwanda, along with his colleagues Rohan Bennett, and Anton Vrieling.
“They were very, very, enthusiastic,” Nex said of the 196 applicants, from which they selected 20 students from 8 neighboring countries. “Most of them asked me very specific questions for specific problems. They really knew what they were looking for and had big expectations for this course and the use of drones.” The training consisted of three parts: making orthophoto maps, 3D reconstructions, and topography models from UAV images in Pix4Dmapper software; mapping applications in land administration, and mapping applications in food security.
The ability to map a crop using multispectral images to better understand its quality has potential to expand the practice of precision agriculture; Pix4D recently participated in hearings at the UN Panel on Food Security to testify about the importance of precision agriculture as a tool. Gerald Forkuor, lead remote sensing scientist for WASCAL and training attendee, explained that the predominance of subsistence farming in the region means small field sizes, which require a cheap and efficient imaging system to capture them. “Persistent cloud cover prevents optical sensors from acquiring cloud-free images during the main cropping season,” said Forkuor. “Knowledge of how UAVs can support in reducing such effects is very necessary.”
Leonard Sweta, training attendee and GIS analyst at the Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in Kenya, stated that learning how to create 3D models and calculate vegetation indices in Pix4Dmapper were the most valuable part of the training. He aims to derive new techniques in land innovation and agriculture from them.
“The idea was to explain how to use UAV images to update maps, for cadastral,” said Nex. “Most of the country has cadastral maps that are very out of date — from flights done sometimes over 20 years ago. There are also big informal settlements. This means there are large areas where you don’t know what’s going on.” Where there are mapping agencies with aircraft in the region, often sensors are not included and need to be rented, creating an impractical and expensive solution.
With a lack of existing infrastructure in some areas and terrain that often lends itself to realizing more of the benefits that drones can provide, Africa may be a major market for drone technology as the industry moves forward. By taking the lead on innovative programs and regulation, Rwanda is serving as the hub of a burgeoning movement to utilize drone tech across the continent.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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