Serge Tuyihimbaze (left) examines a drone with his colleagues. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA
By MOSES K. GAHIGI
Use of drones to deliver services is gaining popularity following directive by the government on use of technology to observe lockdown measures.
Drone company Charis UAS is following in the footsteps of Zipline, an American company that is using the technology to supply blood and drugs to hospitals.
Started by two young engineers in 2014, Charis is setting a good precedent. The Rwanda National Police has used Charis drones to send images of areas where people are violating social distancing, as well as sending Covid19 awareness messages, according to Eric Rutayisire, the CEO of Charis.
“Rwanda National Police has added drones to other existing methods to raise awareness against the coronavirus pandemic “Drones are coming to supplement all these other means.
Enforcement becomes easy when people understand the message,” said RNP spokesperson, CP John Bosco Kabera.
Charis unmanned drones have also been used in the fight against malaria, where they map all mosquito-breeding areas and spray them.
They are also used in power lines inspection, mapping mining sites and topographical surveys.
Charis drones have also been adapted to precision agriculture; where through remote sensing and image analysis they detect crop diseases to pave the way for pest and disease control.
The company has expanded its services to other African countries for instance Ivory Coast, Gabon and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Since 2016, Rwanda has been using drones to deliver blood and cancer drugs to remote hospitals.
As of May 2019, up to 65 per cent of blood deliveries in Rwanda outside Kigali were made using Zipline drones.
The American company paved the way for the commercialisation of drone services and since local companies have also emerged, expanding use cases, doing research and selling their services to a wide range of clients.
Serge Tuyihimbaze’s company Leapr Labs recently won a global award in the recent drone competitions, in the data analysis special category.
His journey to researching and making drones can be likened to that of William Kamkwamba, in Chiwetel Ojiofor’s 2019 feature film ‘The boy who harnessed the wind’.
Although the 26-year-old technology entrepreneur has been trying out a number of inventions, he got his first break in drones and aerospace when government tasked him and other young engineers to work on building the country’s first satellite-RWASAT1.
They were sent to Japan to work alongside Japanese engineers to develop the satellite prototype.
The project was a success, and the miniaturized satellite, with two multi-spectral cameras for monitoring the status of agriculture, built under the auspices of RURA was launched into the orbit in November 2019.
“It was during this process that we saw the demand in the drone space, so after government took over Rwasat1, we focused on drones,” he said.
It was at this time that he founded Leapr Labs with his friend Alex Ntare. The company does Research and Development around drones, where theirnmission is to “research, design, build and deploy drones”.