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Drones for good: UAVs help survey poorly mapped areas of Africa




Most of us take for granted that we can easily find our way from place to place using GPS on our phones. In many parts of the world though, that’s simply not the case. In much of rural Africa for instance, areas are so poorly mapped that it causes difficulties for the likes of disaster relief agencies and local authorities. Are cheap drones and local volunteers able to provide a solution? 

The BBC reports that in Tanzania, regular everyday people are volunteering to use drones to survey previously unmapped areas, providing a great service to the community.

Zanzibar is the capital of Tanzania and has an acute need for accurate maps as its population currently grows by around 1000 a day. Many newcomers arrive in the city and build property. These houses are not captured in official data and as such, often lack access to basic services such as sewerage, water and rubbish collection.

The Zanzibar mapping initiative was founded in 2016 with help from the World Bank and is the largest such project in the world. The total area being surveyed is around 900 square miles (2330 square kilometres) and the drones provided (senseFly eBees) take high-resolution images of the land below.

The SenseFly eBee drone

The eBee can complete up to 12 kilometres of automated flying in a single journey, weigh just 1.5 pounds (700 grams) and are launched by the pilot throwing them in the air.

In most of the world, satellites would suffice to map an area. In tropical areas, however, frequent cloud cover and low-resolution images do not make for accurate maps. Similarly, using aircraft is not very productive, given the extremely high cost often running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Zanzibar’s Minister for Lands, Muhammad Juma Muhammad has said of the project:

“We want to get to the stage where we can plot our hospitals on the map, where we can issue building safety certificates, where we can tell people where the local schools are.”

Tanzania’s location on a world map

You can see the drones in action in the following clip:

To check out more drones for good stories:

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