First ever Droneport concept for development, by Foster + Partners

Drones in cargo routes will save millions of lifes and boost economic development in Africa

Eva González , 16 September, 2015

Lord Foster has launched proposals for the Droneport project in Africa. This project aims to support cargo drone routes able to delivering urgent and first need supplies to remote areas on a massive scale.

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. The proposal will have a strong civic presence, based on sharing and multiple uses.

It allows for safe landing of quiet drones in a densely packed area, and includes 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.
These units will also be manufacturing centres for drones, generating employment opportunities for the local population.

First pilot Droneport in Rwanda by 2016

The pilot project, scheduled to begin in 2016, will be developed in Rwanda, a country whose physical and social geography poses multiple challenges for prototyping the future of the projected Redline trans-continental network. The initial plan is for three buildings, to be completed by 2020.

The three initial Droneports will enable the network to send supplies to 44% of Rwanda.
Subsequent phases of the project could build over 40 units more across Rwanda. And this Afrinan country’s central location may well 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.

Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

Lord Foster, Chairman and Founder of Foster + Partners: “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.
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. Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the Droneport project. This project can have massive impact through the century and save lives immediately.”

Cargo drones, key for development in Africa

Just one 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.

Each year, there are 450,000 deaths due to Malaria, 25 per cent of which are attributed to a lack of blood available for treatment.

The specialist drones can carry blood and life-saving supplies over 100 kilometres at minimal cost, providing an affordable alternative that can complement road-based deliveries.

Two parallel networks would operate services, the Redline using smaller drones for medical and emergency supplies; and the commercial Blueline that would transport crucial larger payloads such as spare parts, electronics, and ecommerce, complementing and subsidising the Redline network.

Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

Furthermore, to catch up with the exponential growth of the population in Africa, which is expected experience a two fold rise reaching 2.2Bn by 2050, unprecedented levels of investment in roads and railways would be needed.

An ‘infrastructural leap’ is key to deliver the propper solution and using drone technology along with clean energy systems could be the right answer to meet the challenges of the future.

Jonathan Ledgard, Founder of Redline: “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.

Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

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. We are proud to have Norman Foster – an architect with extensive personal experience of flying – as our partner on this project.”

“Do it yourself “modular and flexible concept

The project is an evolution of Foster + Partners’ previous experience in building airports, as well as earlier lunar building studies conducted in association with the European Space Agency.

As the structures designed for the moon the Droneport concept by Foster + Partners use a minimal inflatable framework and 3-D printed lunar soil, the Droneport is imagined as a ‘kit-of-parts’ where only the basic formwork and brick-press machinery is delivered to site, and the raw materials, such as clay for bricks and boulders for the foundation, are locally sourced, reducing material transport costs and making it more sustainable.

Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

The central idea is to ‘do more with less’ and the vaulted brick structure with a minimal ground footprint, can easily be put together by the local communities. Multiple vaults can also link together to form flexible spaces based on demand and needs of the particular location or the evolution of drone technology.

Local dwellers will be given the construction knowledge to build up the Droneports. Doing this the project seeks to leave a legacy that will start off a change far bigger than the building itself.

Image above the headline.- Droneport pilot project for Rwanda by Foster + Partners. © Foster + Partners.

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