Morris Mbetsa, a mostly self-taught inventor and electrical engineer, has built the first passenger drone in Africa. Inspired by companies like Uber and Volocopter, Morris set out to create this prototype to show the world that the people in Africa have the brain power to develop passenger drones, and ultimately to be the first nation in the world with flying taxis
DJI Inspire 2
Why not an Africa?
In a 34-minute Youtube video, Morris Mbetsa and his team of software and electrical engineers are being interviewed by Kenya Citizen TV. During the interview, Morris explains how the different components of the drone, such as the electronic speed controllers (ESC), custom-made aluminum and steel motors, flight software, carbon propellers and batteries work together to create a passenger drone that can be flown autonomously, remotely or by manually with a joystick.
The drone we see in the video is not the final product but an open prototype that provides quick access to the various wires and components so that monitoring the operating temperatures and any troubleshooting of the hardware can be performed quickly and easily. After two successful test flights and post-flight checks, Morris says:
“Everything is perfect. I guess, it’s time!”
However, before he takes off, Morris explains to us that this is merely a prototype and that the final version will have its wires covered, will have a nice carbon exterior and interior, carbon seats, safety systems, seat belts and a parachute. He continues to explain how triple redundancy solutions will provide power and propulsion in case of any mishaps. Even if one propeller were to stop working, the other propellers will be able to take over and land the aircraft safely. The passenger drone can carry up to 400 kilograms (882 Lbs) and fly as high as 1,000 meters (3,280 feet).
Inspired by Uber and Volocopter
While growing up, Morris has always used technology to solve problems and it has taken him and his team, which included to engineers who came over from India to help, nine months to develop this passenger drone prototype. Morris was inspired by Uber and Volocopter but those companies were testing in the United States and Dubai. Why not an Africa, Morris wondered? He was ready to take on the challenge to prove those companies wrong. He wanted to show that Africa is more than just poverty, disease and corruption. That the people in Africa have the brainpower to take it to the next level.
While watching the video, I couldn’t help but notice that safety precautions taken by Morris and his team might be a little different from what we are used to in the U.S. Take a look for instance here, where you see how the wires that provide power to the propellers are connected by hand and with the help of pliers. Later in the video, we see how Morris boards the drone and simply sits on top of the hardware (batteries?) without a harness or seat belts to keep him in place and away from the fast spinning propellers. Lastly, a wearing a helmet or flying over water such as Casey Neistat did in this video might have been good ideas as well. Luckily though, the first passenger drone test flight in Africa goes very well. After hovering for a few seconds the passenger drone lands safely and Morris is all smiles.
About the future of passenger drones in Kenya
When asked what he wants to achieve with this project, Morris responds by saying that he not only wants to show that the people in Africa have the brain power to take things to the next level but also that flying taxis make a lot of sense in a country like Kenya where the roads are notoriously bad and suffer from flooding. Morris envisions his passenger drone first to be used for tourist flights over and around Nairobi and later on possibly in search and rescue missions. Ultimately he would like to see his passenger drone being used like Uber with an app on your phone and at a price that makes the service available to the masses.
Morris firmly believes that with the right support, they can be the first country in the world with flying taxis. Lastly, he points out that media coverage is critical to the success of his mission. Well, that is an easy one for us. Morris, we will gladly cover your story and we are excited to see your project come alive and in general to see drones take off in Africa. Good luck and safe flying!
Photos and video
- Volocopter VC200 2X made its maiden flight in North America during CES 2018
- Cora is a personal ‘sky Uber drone’ backed by Google’s Larry Page and Sebastian Thrun, announces 2021 New Zealand launch plan
- Bell Helicopter and Uber show taxi drone at CES 2018
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