Sierra Leone has taken the first steps towards the establishment of a drone test corridor. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) and its partners will use the corridor for testing use cases including drone delivery of medical supplies, and aerial imaging for disaster management and response to remote areas. In this regard, DSTI has signed a Memorandum of Action with partners UNICEF-Sierra Leone, Njala University, and Korri Chiefdom to secure 25 acres of land for the testing of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), also known as drones.
Sierra Leone’s drone corridor will be one of six supported by UNICEF in the world and the technology promises to transform disaster management.
“The corridor means access to technology to provide immunizations and deliver medical supplies to children in need in remote areas during emergencies,” said Andrew T. Sellu, UNICEF Chief of Field Office.
In 2017, Malawi launched Africa’s first drone test corridor in partnership with UNICEF. There, industry, universities, and individuals have been able to test the use of drones for imagery, connectivity, and transport. The drone test corridor at Mokonde, Njala University will offer the same opportunities for learning and exploration for the use of drones in Sierra Leone and create research opportunities for students and fellows. The government’s Medium-Term National Development Plan recognizes the need to use advanced technologies to overcome existing challenges.
“Drone technology is an emerging field that offers the government the opportunity to test its impact on health service delivery to far-reaching regions of the country,” said Michaella George, Policy Lead, DSTI.
“Beyond telemedicine; the delivery of drugs, or medical equipment, research has shown that drones can be useful during and after disaster relief efforts. They can provide an instant telecommunications infrastructure, perform equipment/drug/patient delivery, enhance search and rescue efforts, assess damage, and map disaster zones.”
DSTI and Sierra Leone’s Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA) are collaborating to develop policy recommendations and regulations for drone operations locally. The partnership with SLCAA will ensure that the nation’s aviation body will be involved with the research and the promotion and sensitization of the public on acceptable drone use.
The 25-acre drone testing corridor was well received by the Paramount Chief of Korri Chiefdom who sent a representative to express their commitment and support for the introduction of new technology for youth in their community.
“One community benefit of which I am convinced is that this project will help us overcome the challenges of access to rural areas during emergencies,” said Dr. Phillip Mornya, School of National Resources Management, Njala University.
Students, researchers, and staff from Njala University will have access to the Corridor. Njala student and staff will handle the day to day operations of the corridor while DSTI will provide technical leadership, and oversee the evaluation of licenses of drone operators, as well as lead the research around local test cases for drones in the corridor.
The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation reaffirms its commitment to partners, researchers, and technologists interested in the exploration of drone technology both in the public and private sectors as Sierra Leone glides towards its first drone corridor. DSTI will announce details for program participation in due course.