Lifesaving Africa drone project revealed by Lord Norman Foster

The use of drones to carry life-saving supplies to remote parts of Africa is being pioneered by starchitect Lord Norman Foster.

The CSR Droneport project is aimed at supporting cargo drone routes capable of delivering urgent aid – such as medical equipment, blood supplies and shelters – on a massive scale.

Foster, recently named the world’s most influential architect, said: “The Droneport project is about doing ‘more with less’, capitalising 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 structures would function is a similar way to petrol stations along a highway, supplying power and technical assistance while also housing a health clinic, a digital fabrication shop, a post and courier room, and an e-commerce trading hub, allowing it to become part of local community life.

The Droneport is visualised as having only the basic formwork and brick-press machinery delivered to site, and the raw materials, such as clay for bricks and boulders for the foundation, are locally sourced, reducing material transport costs.

Rwanda is the proposed site for the project with two “Droneline” flight paths established from a central point to outlying communities – one for cargo, the Redline, and one for emergency supplies, the Blueline.

Foster 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.

“Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the Droneport project.”

This initial plan for three buildings, to be completed by 2020, will enable the network to send supplies to 44% of Rwanda. Subsequent phases of the project could see in excess of 40 Droneports across Rwanda, and the country’s central location could allow easier expansion to neighbouring countries such as Congo, saving many thousands more lives.

The project is a collaboration between Redline partners led by Afrotech, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL); the Norman Foster Foundation and Foster + Partners.

The design team said just as mobile phones dispensed with landlines, cargo drones can transcend geographical barriers such as mountains, lakes, and unnavigable rivers without the need for large-scale physical infrastructure.

Around a third of Africans live within two kilometres of an all-season road, and there are no continental motorways, almost no tunnels, and not enough bridges that can reach people living in far-flung areas of the continent.

Jonathan Ledgard, founder of Redline, 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, cheaper, and more accurately than ever before.

“But it is not inevitable that these craft or their landing sites will be engineered to be tough and cheap enough to serve poorer communities who can make most use of them. Droneport is an attempt to make that happen, and to improve health and economic outcomes in Africa – and beyond.”