African Drone and Data Academy wins AUVSI’s humanitarian and public safety award

African drone academy

The African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) has won the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International’s humanitarian and public safety award. In less than two years, the Malawi-based ADDA has produced 300 graduates from across Africa to pursue a variety of careers in business and public service based on drone tech.

The ADDA was founded in 2020 in a partnership between the United Nations Children’s Fund and Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education, and Development, which manages the program. Its mission is as clear as it has been effective. The school provides youths from across Africa drone, data, and entrepreneurship knowledge and skills applicable to the continent’s development needs. Over a 10-week course period, students are taught how to build, test, and fly drones, and learn how to analyze imagery and data collected by the craft for various uses. Major areas of application include health, agriculture, and environmental activities.

The program is based on what has been one the most valuable innovations in addressing Africa’s mix of needs over recent decades. Rather than merely providing materials and assistance to overcome the most recent or pressing adversities, organizations equip locals with knowledge and skills to solve those problems on their own – and use them again to respond to or proactively avert them in the future. 

As part of those exchanges of know-how, locals become proficient in adapting cutting-edge techniques and technologies to the ongoing challenges particular to Africa. In some cases, even simple, daily embrace of those have allowed Africans to jump entire generations of development as they update their lives. For example, use of smartphone for all kinds of activities, including e-commerce that skips construction of traditional stores and supply chains altogether, has shot the continent to the head of online consumer activity. 

Many experts believe the multiple practical abilities of drones will have the same widespread and varied effects, which is reflected in The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International according the ADDA its award.

“All around the world, we see mobility and data access as critical elements to achieving higher standards of living,” said Kevin Kochersberger, a Virginia Tech associate professor who heads the ADDA. “Drones have become the go-to resource to support these areas, especially in regions with limited infrastructure. Winning this award recognizes the value of the program to our graduates and the communities they serve.”

African Drone and Data Academy teaching students to solve longstanding local challenges with knowledge from the skies

Though based in Malawi, the ADDA has accepted applicants from 23 nations across the continent for in-person and remote instruction. During its inaugural year in 2020, 26 students were present in classrooms, and another 140 participated online. Graduates earn drone certifications that enable them to enter the drone workforce or data analytics industry. Admitted students are provided full scholarships that cover tuition, transportation, accommodation, meal stipends, and basic medical insurance while completing the program. 

But the greatest aspect of ADDA participation for those students comes at the end of the program, when an entire drone future opens up before them.

“Graduates of our program are fundamentally improving their local communities through careers in emergency medical deliveries, precision agriculture, urban planning, climate change, and anti-poaching,” says Brian Kamamia, the ADDA’s project manager in Malawi. “Furthermore, through predictive analysis such as flood modeling and land use analysis, our graduates are able to better prepare their local communities for natural disasters and disease outbreaks. The 21st-century skills acquired from ADDA are crucial in promoting and ensuring sustainable growth across the African continent.”

Photo: Emma Bussard/Virginia Tech

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