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Over the recent past, drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have emerged as a remarkable technology platform creating value in a diverse range of sectors and industries – from agriculture to disaster management, logistics to public health, safety to search and rescue.

As foundational technologies – energy storage, remote sensing, 5G and above data services, and more – continue to evolve, the potential for drones will continue to expand. However, this takes place in a time of complex global challenges from climate change, to shifting demographics and economic volatility. These technologies and ecosystems offer a means to create entirely new forms of value that would not be possible without the kind of data, autonomy, and flexibility offered by drones.

Taking full advantage of this opportunity requires that the systems enabling drone platforms are coherent, and intentionally designed to achieve growth in the sector. Supported by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office’s (FCDO) RISA Fund, an in-depth analysis was conducted for the South African and Kenyan drone technology ecosystems, identifying strengths and weaknesses in each, along with potential avenues that could be explored to grow these ecosystems.

Delivered by a joint team of RIIS and Burooj Enterprises, drone research was undertaken in partnership with numerous organisations including the Drone Council South Africa, the Saldanha Bay Innovation Campus, and over thirty drone-related organisations in both countries.

Currently SA benefits from a deep and wide economic base that complements drone activities; while Kenya has established excellent leading practices that set it up for success. Furthermore, there is also an opportunity for Kenya’s private sector to learn from the experiences and business models developed in South Africa, which has pioneered in certain areas. Yet while there are many sectors that show demand potential, the research indicated that there remains significant opportunities in the agriculture, and media sectors, in both countries

The general findings identified a complex interplay between regulations, competency, and accessibility that is yet to be fully resolved in both Kenya and South Africa. Different regulatory regimes have made it easier, and potentially more risky, in South Africa; while Kenya has a stricter regulatory environment that may constrain the growth of the sector, but could result in fewer risks. Either way, significant efforts are being made to create effective regulatory environments that can enable drone ecosystems to flourish, within the context of each country.

The full report can be accessed here.

The SA Innovation Summit in partnership with the African Institute for Entrepreneurship has produced an extensive report on the SA drone industry, which is accessible here.