The Ministry of Science & Technology has successfully launched its first drone, carrying cargo weighing five kilograms and flying at 5,000m altitude.
The Ministry invested four million Birr in the pilot project, planning to use the drones to distribute medical equipment and supplies to remote areas of the country.
“Our team did the full drone design,” Getahun Mekuria (PhD), minister of Science & Technology, told Fortune. “And some of the components and its engine were manufactured and imported from genuine suppliers.”
The drone, assembled with components from China and an engine from the United States, can fly up to 120Km an hour. The drones will deliver medical supplies running in autopilot mode from dispatch centres to be located in Addis Abeba, Meqelle, Hawasa, Jima, Dire Dewa and Bahir Dar the drones, and will operate in an area that covers a 150Km radius from each dispatch centre.
Twenty team members participated in assembling and launching the drones, according to Mikias Melaku, the Ministry’s ICT director.
The Ministry is ready to manufacture an additional 23 drones in the next six months that will be used to deliver medical supplies on a regular basis to selected remote areas.
In developing the project, the Ministry formulated a research and technology program by recruiting different talents from universities and schools and assembled 100 innovators working under this scheme.
Last month, the Ministry made its first attempt to fly a drone designed and assembled locally but failed to launch it due to technical difficulties as the drone needed 70m runway to take off.
“The attempt failed as the drones body mass was three times higher than the standard,” said Biruk Yalemzewud, the lead engineer.
In an attempt to identify the main issue, the design was sent to a manufacturer in China, and they determined that a faulty component was the issue, according to Biruk.
“In our current provision, the best way to catch up with the technology is by being an integrator,” Getahun argues. “We will use materials that can be sourced locally and import genuine parts for the integration.”
Based on an agreement with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Science & Technology will sign a contract once the pilot project is deemed successful by the end of this year. The Ministry of Health tendered the project to the Ministry of Science and Zipline, an Israeli drone management and operations company that has conducted similar projects in Rwanda, delivering medicine and blood supplies to areas that are not easily accessible by roads.
Though the drone was successfully piloted, the ministries need to wait for the establishment of a legal framework for drone operations in the country.
“But as there is now a pressing demand, we believe the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority would finalise the draft document,” Getahun said.
The first draft of the proclamation has already been finalised, and it was reviewed by the Ministry of Defense and the Information Network Security Agency, according to Animut Lemma, promotion and public relations manager at the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority.
“Up until now, most of the drone use was low range flights,” Animut said. “But as institutions are trying to pilot long-range flight, a regulatory framework should be set.”
Experts comment that the legal framework is delayed and the Authority should move fast in finalising the final legal framework.
“The Authority should take a lead promoting similar technologies,” said Yonathan Menkir, an expert and consultant in the aviation industry.
In the meantime, the Ministry is in the process of registering the patents and intellectual property rights of the designs, according to Biruk.
“We are on the paper works to register the ownership of the design,” Biruk told Fortune.