First Drone & Data Academy Opens In Africa

On 13th January, the first African Drone and Data Academy opened in Lilongwe, Malawi. The move is part of efforts to promote the use of drones in programmes and services that will impact the lives of children and young people.

The academy will develop expertise in the use of drones for humanitarian, development and commercial purposes across the continent through a 12-week course. It plans to train approximately 150 students to build and pilot drones by 2021. Funding from UNICEF’s partners will provide free tuition to the first cohort of 26 students from across Africa.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, comments:

“Humanitarian and development programme 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”.

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.

James Chakwera, Director of Malawi’s Department of Civil Aviation said:

“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. We are proud to partner with UNICEF in such an exciting endeavour”.

Kevin Kochersberger, associate professor at Virginia Tech who will lead the project, comments:

“The ADDA reflects Virginia Tech’s ongoing commitment to the innovative application of drone technology and education in Malawi and the Africa region. The academy will give graduates 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 mode that integrates and analyses aerial and satellite imagery and other types of data like geospatial data, social media, crowd sourced data, and sensor data for its programs.