ICT: Students explore how drone technology works

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Students learn about how technology works at the Zipline centre in Muhanga District. (Photos by Dennis Agaba)

Unlike in the past when technology was just a fairy-tale, today’s generation is exposed to a number of technologies, much as majority of these are only seen in movies.

Students now have internet at school which exposes them to  technological innovations online and how they are shaping the world they live in. However, to students, reading and watching their world change is not enough; they wish to be involved and get in contact with those inventions so that they learn and embrace the field of ICT.

Rwandan students should however count themselves lucky as an initiative introduced by Zipline, a US robotic company operating in Rwanda, is giving students an opportunity to visit the drone centre in Muhanga District in the Southern Province. Groupe Scolaire Gitarama in Nyamabuye Sector in Muhanga were last week the pioneers of this initiative.

Excitement was all over students’ faces as they watched drones fly, and from their questions, one could tell that they had been yearning for this rich experience. This educational tour around the drone centre involved learning how drones work and the technology involved.

Students were informed that Zipline is partnering with the Ministry of Youth and ICT and the Ministry of Health to operate the very first national drone delivery programme for blood and other lifesaving medical products.

Besides, students learned that the drones, called Zips, can carry 2-6 units of blood at a time and deliver in 15-45 minutes, depending on a hospital’s location. Currently, Zipline delivers blood to district hospitals, including Kabgayi, Muhororo, Nyanza, Gitwe, Kirinda, Kaduha, Gakoma and Gikonko - all district hospitals.

Josias Rwambikana, one of the teachers that accompanied the students, said exposing students to sophisticated technology like the one used by Zipline helps prepare them for the real world around them, and boosts innovation and creativity among them.

“As our nation becomes increasingly more dependent on technology, it becomes even more necessary to have a tech-enlightened population. Students must learn to be tech-enthusiasts. And it is in this regard that we were honoured to bring our students to learn about this advanced technology,” he said. 

Maggie Jim, the in-charge of communication at Zipline, said the main reason they invited a local school to visit the drone centre was to encourage students to embrace technology and boost their interest and understanding of ICT.

“Technology helps make teaching and learning easier and more fun. It is in our line of interest to support different government initiatives that were put in place to encourage young people pick interest in ICT-related fields,” she said.

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Students watch how drones are used to transport medical supplies. 

On why Zipline chose to operate in Muhanga District, Maggie told students that Muhanga is strategically located at the heart of the country, which enables Zipline deliver to 21 centres from one location and serve 6 million people who live within a 75km radius.

She also enlightened students that Zips are very safe, battery operated and have programmed flight plans that ensure accurate delivery.

“And at any time during the flight, Zipline is able to control the planes to perform a safe and controlled landing. On the other hand, RCAA and MINISANTE work closely with Zipline to make sure that Zipline’s system meets their flight- and health-specific standards. The medicine that Zips carry is packaged very carefully and is inspected by hospital staff upon delivery,” she explained.

Rwambikana told Education Times that having access to other information outside books gives students a chance to learn concepts in different ways.

“With the presence of technology, teachers can come up with creative ways to teach their students. The simple technology we use at school has changed the learning environment, making learning more hands-on,” he explains.

Students thrilled

Students, on the other hand, said that their visit was enlightening, educative and a good experience.

Thiery Dushimiyimana, a Senior Five student, said the visit helped to resolve many questions he has always asked himself about how Zips work.

“Information about drones is exciting and it’s very inspiring to know that the operations of drones are done by our fellow Rwandans. This proves that if we continue to be passionate in our studies and gain more exposure to technological innovations there is a lot we can do in the future. Thanks to Zipline, I now have facts to tell my colleagues about drone technology,” he said.

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Students being guided by a drone technician on how medical supplies are transported inside the drone. 

For Alice Uwase, a Senior Two student, her visit to the drone centre was an advanced classroom, which she testifies changed her attitude towards technology and perception of ICT as a girl.

“After looking at how technology can be applied to save lives, I think exposing students to different technologies through trips like the one we have had, workshops as well as seminars would help build tech-enthusiasts who would develop good ideas that eventually would make Rwanda a better place to live in,” she noted.