Rwandan drone firm scoops global award

Staff members at Leapr Labs, the local drone company that won the global data analysis award. / Courtesy.

Leapr Labs, a Rwandan drone company, has won an international data analysis special award, according to the African Drone Forum.

The award, dubbed Lake Kivu Flying, was announced Tuesday, May 5, during a virtual ceremony.

 

Designed to reproduce potential challenges to drone flying operation in Africa, the inaugural competition took place in Rwanda’s western district of Karongi in February.

 

During the competition, drones flew between a droneport on the shores of Lake Kivu for a 20km distance across the water body on Bugarura Island.

 

The challenge presented an opportunity to 10 participants from around the world to showcase cutting edge technologies in three different real-world scenarios, including emergency deliveries where teams delivered packages to remote islands and returned to the base on the shore.

The second category was sample collection where teams picked up sample packages from identified spots on an island and returned to base on the shore.

In the third category, which is Find and Assess, the competing teams surveyed a remote island and identified GPS positions in order to facilitate a rescue operation in the case of a natural disaster.  

Additionally, teams were required to locate and accurately track boats on the lake.

Drones were always visible to air traffic control and all flights performed were Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). BVLOS is the air worthiness of any flying object. 

This means that drones can fly long distances out of sight, thus performing more tasks in different fields like maritime and geological surveys, mining, and delivery of commercial products.

Award is a ‘great motivation’

Winning the special award on the Data Analysis part is a great motivation, said Serge Tuyihimbaze, Managing Director at Leapr Labs, “because we have seen that our lab can compete at a global level.”

Data Analysis is a critical element for drone emissions.

Competitors were chosen after strict screening from over 70 applications. 

Besides the award, winners received cash prizes from the World Bank and UK’s Department for International Development.

Tuyihimbaze said they received £15,000 (about Rwf15 million).

“We plan to use the funds in drone research and development activities,” he said.  “Such activities are expensive, we hope to get more funding from different partners who are interested in drone solutions for Africa’s biggest challenges.”

According to the Minister for Innovation and ICT, Paula Ingabire, the Lake Kivu Challenge is “not just about recognising and awarding winners, but rather drawing attention and collaboration from the wider global drone industry and partners to bring these solutions to scale in Africa.”

Tuyihimbaze added that their company managed to build strategic networks during the competition.

Deals, digital jobs and innovation

“We secured a partnership with the Chemnitz University of Technology and this will be of a great impact,” he noted. 

They also inked deals with Wingcopter and Hojung Solutions, he said.

Franz Drees-Gross, World Bank Regional Director, said: “We believe that investing in human capital, leveraging new technologies, and maximising partnerships for development are key to growth and shared prosperity.

“As we are witnessing with the COVID-19 pandemic, resilient supply chains, digital skills, and digital jobs and innovation are now more important than ever."

The African drone industry is a critical global market as governments and NGOs invest in new technologies with the potential to help address supply chain challenges and boost local economies.

eashimwe@newtimesrwanda.com

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