New technologies, such as drones, are giving humanity new capabilities and techniques to simplify otherwise complex situations and improve lives by doing so.
One of the best examples of drones overcoming complexity, by leapfrogging infrastructure constraints, to do good is the RedLine cargo drones and drone ports initiative led by Jonathan Legard and designed by famed architect Lord Norman Foster.
Foster who is credited with ‘inventing’ the modern airport and the world’s biggest airport, plus the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport for Virgin Galactic in New Mexico and designed Lunar building studies, which would be built by robots, in conjunction with the European Space Agency, as well as creating some of the world’s most iconic building designs has partnered with Legard’s RedLine Drones and has built the first prototype Drone Port which he says will have a very broad social agenda.
Very complex supply chain challenges
Lagard has identified Rwanda to be the first destination on the African continent to build the Drone Port designed by The Norman Foster Foundation, which was able to harness the creativity of students and professors from five universities around the world at institutions including MIT, ETH Zurich and others from industry such as LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.
The majority of roads in Rwanda are mere dirt lanes with large potholes and mud tracks. Trucks, 4 x 4 vehicles and cars frequently break down and the estimated time of arrival of cargo is often determined in days, rather than hours. With its inadequate road and rail infrastructure, wide-open spaces, favorable regulatory bodies and relatively quiet skies Rwanda is highly suited to operating cargo drones.
Norman Foster has expressed his belief that RedLine drones can reduce transport constraints and create better links between regions and among remote communities and deliver consignments, such as critical medical supplies, in one twelfth of the time of a Land Rover.
Small helicopter-type drones with little payloads and limited ranges are useful for photography, surveillance and perhaps so-called ‘last-mile’ (final) delivery in highly developed places with good infrastructure. But they would be ineffective in such a complex infrastructure as Rwanda.
RedLine’s fleet of fixed-wing drones have a 10 feet (3 meter) wingspan, 22 lbs (10 kilogram) payload and 31 miles (50 kilometer) range. These drones will transport emergency cargo; primarily blood to treat malaria of which 450,000 people die every year in Africa, sickle cell disease, which results in more than 100,00 deaths each year and blood for transfusions for mothers during childbirth – more than 60,000 mothers die each year due to bleeding and lack of access to blood.
Once the initial network of RedLine drones is operational, the plan is to introduce the BlueLine fleet of larger drones with a 20 feet (6 meters) wingspan, 220 lbs (100 kilogram) payload and 62 miles (100 kilometer) range by 2025.
The idea is that in the long term BlueLine will help subsidize RedLine’s humanitarian activities by carrying commercial cargo for fee-paying clients.
DronePort more than a hangar for drones
With a rapidly growing population Africa is facing exponential growth that is set to double to 2.2 billion people across the continent by the year 2050. In particular Rwanda also faces the prospect of up to 70 percent youth unemployment.
With this in mind the architects have designed the DronePorts with a unique structure so that minimum products are imported and the maximum materials and building construction is done locally leading to short and long-term sustainable development and employment in the local community.
In addition for a place to operate, build and repair the drones, Foster envisions DronePorts will become a catalyst for other industries to develop and prosper, such as e-commerce, health care and education facilities, he hopes the ports will have a strong civic presence, based on sharing and multiple uses where marketplace and community centers will flourish.
A full-scale prototype of the DronePorts was built in May 2016 at the 15th International Architecture Biennale. The buildings construction, with bricks made from stabilized earth, a reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly building material, which does not require intensive use of fuel, was filmed to serve as a model for replication by local communities in emerging economies.
The Norman Foster Foundation is working on creating a ‘SolarBrick’, which could be incorporated into the structure of the droneport vaults. The ‘SolarBrick’ will have solar cells on its outer surface, charging a long-life battery and then powering a LED lamp on the inner surface.
The innovative design of the DronePorts has been designed with the goal of ensuring the drone is capable of delivering cargo and urgent medical supplies quickly and cheaply top overcome the limitations caused by poor infrastructure.
Foster and Lagard both believe Africa will be the first continent to adopt flying robots for cargo at a massive scale.
It’s not technologies that change the world it’s the people who implement and use them.
Additional links to articles, photos and videos