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Africa's first drone and data academy opens in Malawi

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-01-16 05:49


The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), opened the first African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi's capital Lilongwe, aimed at promoting the use of drones in programm and services that will impact the lives of children and young people.

Building on the efforts of Africa's first humanitarian corridor launched in the country in 2017, the academy opened on Monday will develop expertise in the use of drones for humanitarian, development and commercial purposes across the continent through a 12-week course.

It's expected to train approximately 150 students to build and pilot drones by 2021. The tuition fee for the first cohort of 26 students from across Africa, will be financed by the UNICEF's partners.

Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, said the humanitarian and development program delivery in Africa and beyond can benefit significantly from the application of drone technology.

"The African Drone and Data Academy will be instrumental in equipping young people with the skills they need to use the technology to benefit children and their communities," he said.

James Chakwera, the director of Malawi's Department of Civil Aviation, said they are proud to partner with UNICEF in the exciting endeavour.

"In Malawi we strongly believe that adopting modern technologies such as drones and advanced data analysis and management techniques will help us to serve our children better," he said.

The curriculum has been developed in partnership with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), following its successful delivery of training workshops in Malawi since 2017. The course will combine theoretical and practical methodologies in making, testing and flying drones.

By 2022, the academy will run a tuition-free two-year master's degree program in drone technology, in conjunction with Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST).

It will also deliver a curriculum that will build local capacity and a favourable ecosystem for the emergence of sustainable business models for using drones for humanitarian and development missions.

The inaugural class includes 16 students from Malawi and 10 from across Africa. More than half of the students are women with undergraduate degrees in science, technology or engineering.

The second class will start its training mid-April 2020. The call for applications is open until Jan 26.

"The academy reflects Virginia Tech's ongoing commitment to the innovative application of drone technology and education in Malawi and the Africa region," said Kevin Kochersberger, associate professor at Virginia Tech who will lead the project.

He said the academy will equip the graduates with the necessary skills for jobs using drone applications ranging from agriculture and health to natural resources monitoring.

UNICEF Malawi and the Malawi government of together with other partners began testing the use of drones in development and humanitarian contexts with the launch of a humanitarian drone testing corridor in Kasungu, Malawi in 2017.

Since then, drone testing and application work has included delivery of medical supplies, emergency response work, crop monitoring, cholera mapping as well as integrating drones into national disaster response and monitoring.

UNICEF Malawi has developed a data intelligence node that integrates and analyses aerial and satellite imagery and other types of data like geospatial data, social media, crowdsourced data, and sensor data for its programs.

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