During college I had the pleasure of attending an exhibit entitled “Design for the other 90%” – its focus was around designing products, services, and systems for the 90% of our population that can’t afford our first world luxuries (stable internet being one of many). Sadly, there weren’t more things like it. I’m always excited to learn about any project or design competition that focuses on people that need real solutions to harmful problems. That’s where the Flying Donkey Challenge comes in.
“The Flying Donkey Challenge is an escalating series of sub-challenges held annually in Africa. World-leading roboticists, engineers, regulators, entrepreneurs, logisticians, and designers will win substantial grants by advancing the safety, durability, legality, profitability and friendliness of cargo robots.
Before 2020, with world media attention, the sub-challenges will culminate in a race of Flying Donkeys* around Mount Kenya in under 24 hours, delivering and collecting 20 kilo payloads along the way. The winner(s) will collect a multi-million dollar prize.”
This project has a number of unintended benefits, as well as numerous problems currently not addressed by the project. Using drones as a way to delivery food, medicine, and other items across long distances eliminates the need for spending billions of dollars on highways and public transportation. Implementing that sort of infrastructure would also destroy the environment, displace people living in their way, and increase greenhouse gases worldwide. The drones could also provide low level monitoring and assistance to farmers as they go from point A to B providing information people may not otherwise have.
Some possible problems that may arise from this are the need for education. Should the drones be modular, people in rural areas will have to be able to assemble them and fix them on their own. Educational infrastructure will have to be put in place to ensure that the drones don’t fall out of repair.I’m also worried about piracy. It’s easy to aim a rifle and shoot a drone down if it’s flying at a low altitude. Simple electronic jamming devices could also produce a similar effect allowing individuals to raid the contents before they arrive at their intended destination. The ability to monitor a drone’s location would also need to be implemented to ensure that the travel routes have not been tampered with.
Concerns aside, I think this is an ingenious project that would have more benefits than short comings. It would allow from a non-intrusive form of infrastructure that won’t threaten cultural stability much unlike what happened when Europe went about colonizing Africa and implement railroads, roads, and other trade “necessities”.
For more information about the Flying Donkey Project, please visit their website.