How can you connect digital media, digital cities and specifically drone technology to development and aid?
This is how: the case study in Rwanda where unmanned aerial vehicles, infamously known as killing drones, are being used to transport medical equipment and essentials within a country lacking the infrastructure assets and systems needed to ensure proper healthcare. This seems to address Ole B. Jensen’s question on whether or not the emergence of drone technologies “will also hold empowering potential for institutions other than states, government bodies, commercial enterprises and organised crime.” (Jensen 2016, page 67)
The potential is enormous, as drones can support many other needs as evidenced in the pilots taking place in Malawi. According to UNICEF, the emergence of the first humanitarian drone test corridor will allow organizations and individuals the chance to explore the possibilities of unmanned aerial vehicles in the fields of development and aid. The project explores Jensen’s “six dimensions of surveillance” (Jensen 2016, page 71) through the use of drones for capturing aerial imagery, but goes beyond this as it focuses on the transport and delivery of medical supplies, vaccines and laboratory samples.
As usual, with every innovation and the excitement that it brings, there are risks and challenges to look into, not only to do with design constraints but with lack of proper regulation. The UNICEF project addresses this by establishing a corridor in consultation with the Malawi Department of Civil Aviation, abiding to their the government’s regulatory framework.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect with regards to the overuse of unmanned vehicles when facing development and humanitarian issues is the fact that we are not addressing the root issues which are inadequate healthcare systems and road infrastructures. The use of drones might very well support the targets of sustainable development goals such as number 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. But what about number 9, Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation? Aside from the last component of innovation, the use of drones might not doing number SDG 9 any favours. UNICEF would argue that their mandate is to protect children, and that they are doing just that. As long as the outputs and outcomes are clear, the use if innovative technologies like unmanned aerial vehicles has incredible potential in the development and humanitarian fields.
- Flood, Z., 2016. From killing machines to agents of hope: the future of drones in Africa. Guardian Online. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/27/africas-drone-rwanda-zipline-kenya-kruger
- Africa’s first humanitarian drone testing corridor launched in Malawi by Government and UNICEF. UNICEF website. Available on: https://www.unicef.org/media/media_96560.html
- Jensen, O.B., 2016. Drone city – power, design and aerial mobility in the age of “smart cities.” Geographica Helvetica, 71(67–75), pp.66–75. Available at: http://www.geogr-helv.net/71/67/2016/.
- Sustainable Development Goals. Available in: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs