UK architect Foster + Partners and research organisation Afrotech have launched proposals for a "droneport" in Rwanda, east Africa to help get cargo to communities with poor access to roads.
The architect points out that only one-third of Africans live within two kilometres of an all-season road, and that it is unlikely that countries will be able to invest sufficient capital in road and rail provision to meet the needs of the continent’s future population, which is expected to double to 2.2 billion by 2050.
The use of cargo robots is therefore a vital "infrastructural leap" to providing towns and villages with access to emergency aid, as well as commercial goods, the firm said.
Africa is a continent where the gap between the population and infrastructural growth is increasing exponentially. We require immediate bold, radical solutions to address this issue– Lord Foster, chairman of Foster + Partners
Afrotech is a department of Swiss research university Lausanne Polytechnic, set up specifically to pioneer advanced technologies that can be deployed in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Afrotech, the first cargo robot route could be operating in Africa by 2016.
Two supply lines are planned, one delivering medical supplies, such as units of blood, along an 80km route between several towns and villages, while the other will operate a more conventional delivery service, bringing goods that were ordered online.
Afrotech says that by 2020, the flying robot technology will be capable of taking 20kg over distances of several hundred kilometres.
The initial plan for Rwanda is to build three buildings that will enable the network to send supplies to 44% of the country by 2020.
Subsequent phases of the project could involve more than 40 droneports, followed by expansion into neighbouring countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Afrotech’s rendition of a droneport in action
Lord Foster, the chairman of Foster + Partners, said: "Africa is a continent where the gap between the population and infrastructural growth is increasing exponentially. We require immediate bold, radical solutions to address this issue.
"The droneport project is about capitalising on the recent advancements in drone technology – something that is usually associated with war and hostilities – to make an immediate life-saving impact in Africa. Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the project."
Foster + Partners plan to supply droneports as a kit-of-parts, in which the basic formwork and brick-press machinery is delivered to site, and the raw materials, such as clay for bricks and boulders for the foundation, are locally sourced.
The project is supported by Swiss Robotics and will facilitate research into precision-based navigation, biomimetics, advanced materials, safety systems, landing systems, route optimisation, and other topics.
Main photograph: Foster + Partners’ visualisation of a droneport under construction