UAV Podcasts

Propelling: Advancing African Enterprise One Drone at Time with Hanno Truter of Microdrones

Meet Hanno Truter

Hanno Truter, Sales Manager for Microdrones Africa, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, discusses some of the challenges and advantages drone users across the continent are facing. Prior to working at Microdrones, Hanno had a background in surveying and agriculture, having most recently served as a sales engineer for Trimble in their Precision Agricultural division. Now as the sales manager for Microdrones Africa, Hanno’s territory covers the entire continent of Africa, where there are many opportunities for Microdrones integrated solutions to be put to work.  


Africa: Bigger isn’t always Better

Africa is unlike all of the other Microdrones territories when it comes to sheer size and scope. “First of all, let me give you a bit of perspective on the actual size of Africa,” explains Hanno. “If you look at it from South to North, you’re talking about 8,000 kilometers and from East to West about 7500 km. North America, China, India, Eastern Europe, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Japan all can fit into Africa itself. So that’s quite a vast area to cover.”

Although size and travel can be a challenge in Africa, Hanno explains what makes it so unique is that it’s very less institutionalized than the Unites States and Europe, meaning there’s a lot of room for entrepreneurs to experiment. Drones have similar applications in Africa as other markets including agriculture, mapping surveying, and inspection. However, distinctive to African countries are uses for land planning, emergency medical delivery routes and wildlife conservation. According to Hanno, the deployment of drone technology in Africa still faces technological, economic, social and legal regulatory challenges. Only 28% of African countries have official regulations in place which covers the use of drones. It’s a very unique market compared to the United States and Europe.

Lately, commercial drone adoption has been gaining momentum in Africa with three industries: agriculture, mining, and renewable energy. The impact has been significant.

Hanno Truter

Sales Manager for Microdrones Africa

One of the reasons only 28% of African countries have regulations in place is that most drones are seen by African authorities as aircraft and get handled in a similar way. “Legislation is a use challenge for us,” says Hanno. “The licensing process is extremely lengthy and costly. Lately, commercial drone adoption has been gaining momentum in Africa with three industries: agriculture, mining, and renewable energy. The impact has been significant. From creating a safer work environment, saving farms and obviously increasing crops as well. One big hurdle that remains for drone adoption on scale in Africa is the lack of official regulations governing the use of drones in many of the countries.”

Care For Some Sugar With Your Drone?

Recently Microdrones started a case study with a very large sugar cane producer in Southern Africa. One of their major problems the company faced was determining the actual yield of sugar that a field can produce before it goes to the mill. Currently they can only determine the amount of sugar once it’s been crushed and run through the mill. “Using the mdLiDAR1000, we were able to help analyze the fields and estimate yield,” says Hanno. “We flew one of the sugarcane fields and by using the Lidar data, we could determine the stalk height of the sugarcane plant. By using a third party software, that they designed, we could actually determine the yield of a specific field that the sugarcane would produce before it’s been harvested. This happened three months before the actual harvest date and based on our data, they were able to modify the harvest so they could actually increase the yield of that specific field. So this was a major breakthrough for them and we at Microdrones were proud to be part of this exercise. There’s another 27,500 hectares of sugarcane throughout Southern Africa that the same operation needs to be practiced. So this should open up some new doors for some sugarcane.

Africa: Land of Opportunity

Hanno also explains there’s currently a number of drone related opportunities throughout Africa. Eastern countries like China and India have very limited agricultural land available, and will rely on Africa to produce crops to feed their populations. Microdrones integrated solutions, like the mdLiDAR1000 in the sugarcane fields, can help manage and estimate crop yields.

Africa is also seeing a boom in the renewable energy industry with over 50 operational solar plants with a total of about 6.7 million solar panels. These panels need to be inspected on a regular basis. “When it comes to these Solar Farms we can outfit our drones with thermal cameras to identify cold spots,” says Hanno. “These cold spots indicate the photocell is dead or not working properly. By flying over the Solar Plants, we save time, money and identify potential issues much faster than traditional inspections.” 

In addition to Solar Plants, there’s also the opportunity to perform inspections at Wind Farms with rows of wind Turbines. “Those motors sit about 80 meters above the ground,” Hanno says. “Not to mention the length of their blades. In the traditional manner, you would expose technicians to potential dangers by climbing all the way to the top to perform an inspection. With a drone outfitted with a live camera feed, you can fly close to these blades and inspect them which is obviously much safer than putting someone up there on a rope.”

Hanno is also looking into drone usage for land development and management. Presently, he estimates only 10% of rural land in Africa is mapped. “There’s still many tribes in Africa who maintain their own land producing crops and farming with livestock,” explains Hanno. “Having set boundaries is very important for these tribes. This is where drones can come into play to assist with the actual surveys. Instead of walking hundreds of kilometers, and spending hours and hours in the bush and chopping down trees and creating sight lines, you can use a drone like the mdMapper1000DG to perform the survey from the air.” 

Besides surveying, Hanno also sees huge potential for medical supplies delivery. He explains that in countries like Rwanda or Uganda, sometimes delivery of essential medical supplies can take up to 2 days to cover a distance of 50 – 100 kilometers by road. By using drones it can take an hour to reach these places and supply critical medical supplies – it can save lives. He expects much growth, development and potential in the African market as more regulations are adopted and the aviation authorities’ work together to create safe and practical drone guidelines.

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