African Drone Forum: senseFly Recap
This year, the second-ever African Drone Forum (ADF) was held in Rwanda – two years after the first event in Tanzania. A team from senseFly spent a total of nine days in Rwanda to participate in the event and compete in the Find and Assess competition.
What It Takes
Plans to attend ADF began in September 2019 when senseFly’s Global Training Manager, Andrea Blindenbacher, was invited to take part in the Lake Kivu Challenge.
An extensive vetting process took place to ensure the eBee X was equipped for this type of challenge. The process included providing detailed information about the drone and attending drone pilots. senseFly also had to submit an operations’ manual, which outlined the flight plan for the challenge with the eBee X, emergency procedures and risk calculations.
Out of dozens of applications, the eBee X was chosen as one of 11 finalists to participate in the Lake Kivu Challenge.
Welcome to Rwanda
We arrived in Kigali, the capitol of Rwanda, on Friday, January 31, and headed straight to Karongi—200 kilometers away from Kigali but right on the shore of Lake Kivu. Here, we met the other competing teams and began three days of scrutineering.
“They had aviation specialists who would look at each drone system, how it’s built, what the electronics are, if it’s all built in a safe manner and so on,” said Blindenbacher, “We were one of the most advanced systems at the event, so the scrutineering process went quite smooth for us.”
This process ended on Tuesday, so government representatives and representatives with regulatory roles who were in Rwanda for the conference traveled to Karongi to observe flight demos from some of the competitors. There were between 40 to 50 country representatives from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), in addition to representatives from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The Drone Garden
The teams returned to Kigali on Wednesday for the three-day conference. All challenge competitors set up their drones in the “drone garden”—a small porch area located outside the conference center. This is where the eBee X met the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.
President Kagame approached each team’s drone setup and listened as they explained what their drone does, which challenge it was taking part in and which company developed it.
The meetings were short but meaningful and set a great tone for the rest of the event.
Aside from the outdoor “drone garden”, there was a lot to see and learn inside the conference center. Blindenbacher took the stage with senseFly co-founder Antoine Beyeler for a segment called Tech Track. Blindenbacher spoke about an organization she’s heavily involved in called Drone Adventures, what they do and why they choose to use lightweight drones – the eBee, specifically.
The Lake Kivu Challenge included three separate competitions, each with at least three different competitors. Two of the competitions focused on drone delivery while a third competition, “Find and Assess”, focused on drone mapping and discovery. The eBee X participated in the latter.
senseFly was the first competitor to kick off the competition on Saturday. From a 10-by-10-meter launchpad, the eBee X took off on a 10-kilometer trek over Lake Kivu to the mission destination. It took the eBee X 10 minutes to reach its location, which was a 3-by-3-kilometer area. It contained numerous 1-by-1-meter targets that were placed sporadically throughout the land. With a senseFly S.O.D.A. camera, the eBee X captured 210 aerial images of the area and surrounding water. Once completed, the drone flew an additional 10 kilometers back to the launchpad for a precise landing.
Once the eBee X returned, the team imported the imagery into Pix4Dreact and began assessing the data. They had to count how many boats and targets they found and include the coordinates of each discovered target. The number of targets and boats they found plus the coordinates’ accuracy determined how many points the team earned.
While the mission itself posed its fair share of challenges, there were other factors the eBee X overcame. For example, Lake Kivu is 1,500 meter above mean sea level. This changes the atmospheric pressure, which can influence the drone’s flight behavior. Also, the drone had to maintain constant communication with the ground station during the mission. If it lost connection, it would be disqualified and unable to leave the predefined zone. Things like this needed to be considered beforehand to ensure a successful mission.
“There were a lot of constraints in the competition. It really did challenge our system, but we managed, which was very cool,” said Blindenbacher.
For more information about the eBee X, contact a senseFly distributor near you: https://www.sensefly.com/sensefly-distributors/.
At the time of this post, the winner of the competition had not yet been announced.
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