Despite substantial economic and infrastructural development in recent years, many of the countries in Africa are still grossly deficient in proper medical facilities. Diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, which are rampant in this part of the world, often go untreated due to the lack of access to healthcare. London-based architectural studio, Foster + Partners, has revealed plans to construct an airport, for drones, in Rwanda. Featuring a series of vaulted archways, the brick structure, known as Droneport, will be used to deliver medical supplies to the remotest parts of the country, via specially-designed unmanned flying vehicles.
Health care facilities, in Africa, are often quite sparse and far between. Access to hospitals and medical centers is further diminished as a result of the fact that only one-third of the region’s population live within a mile of a road that is traversable all year round. Researchers believe that, by 2050, Africa will be home to over 2.4 billion people, nearly double of its current 1.2 billion populace. According to the engineers at Foster + Partners, developing the infrastructure, necessary to meet the needs of so many people, would require an exorbitant amount of money and time. That is why the firm has come up with an innovative way to bring about a much-needed “infrastructural leap”. Speaking about the project, Norman Foster, the head of the British architectural practice, said:
Africa is a continent where the gap between the population and infrastructural growth is increasing exponentially. The dearth of terrestrial infrastructure has a direct impact on the ability to deliver life-giving supplies, indeed where something as basic as blood is not always available for timely treatment… We require immediate bold, radical solutions to address this issue.
Slated to complete by 2020, the Droneport is envisioned as an affordable, yet efficient, alternative to land-based transport of medical supplies, especially to locations that are geographically inaccessible and poorly-connected by roadways and railways. For the project, the firm has collaborated with Afrotech, a technological company that will oversee the development of cargo drones and related droneport infrastructure. Jonathan Ledgard, the founder and director of Afrotech, said:
It is inevitable on a crowded planet, with limited resources, that we will make more intensive use of our sky using flying robots to move goods faster and more accurately than ever before. But it is not inevitable that these craft or their landing sites will be engineered to be tough, cheap and graceful enough to serve poorer communities who can make most use of them.
Once operational, the Droneport will be used to transport medical supplies, and equipment, via two parallel services: a Red Line for expedited drone-based delivery of items and a commercial Blue Line for conveying larger goods, like electronic items, weighing over 100 kg. Each of the unmanned flying vehicles will be able to cover 100 km, at a time, while carrying loads of up to 10 kg. With construction scheduled to start in 2016, the drone port will house a fully-equipped medical center, a drone factory, an e-commerce trading hub as well as separate post and courier rooms. Foster added:
The Droneport project is about doing more with less, capitalizing on the recent advancements in drone technology – something that is usually associated with war and hostilities – to make an immediate life-saving impact in Africa… The Droneport offers a new typology for a building which we hope will grow into a ubiquitous presence, much like petrol stations have become dispersed infrastructure for road traffic.
Researchers, at John Hopkins University and Uganda-based Makerere University, have undertaken a similar project, aimed at using drones for swift and efficient delivery of blood samples, in remote areas, for quicker diagnosis and treatment.
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