16 graduate in third cohort of African Drone and Data Academy through MUST

In partnership with African Drone and Data Academy, Malawi University of Science & Technology (MUST) graduated 16 of the third cohort of youths that were equipped with knowledge and skills on various aspects of drone operations — including its manufacturing, flying and research.

The 16 youths, 10 women and 6 men, underwent a 5-week level 1 virtually and a further level 2 of in person training done in MUST’s technology labs.

The graduands pose for picture with MUST Deputy Vice-Chancellor (centre)

The African Drone and Data Academy is carrying out this training in 23 African countries through partnership with UNICEF and US-based Virginia Tech and Furham Universities.

In Malawi, African Drone and Data Academy operates from Lilongwe and it partnered with MUST to take advantage of technology skills that the Thyolo-based university imparts on Malawian youths, most of whom are not its own intake.

The next cohort in a few weeks time shall involve 10 youths, five from Malawi and the other half from outside the country in the initiative that has so far graduated over 350 graduates from the 23 African countries with 60% being women.

The 16 graduates were grouped into two to complete assigned projects — one on “Precision Agriculture: Drones & Remote Sensing Technologies in Crop Management’ and ‘Lost Child Search and Rescue’ — which were presented before being given their certificates.

Their design of a drone was a creation of technology for precision mode of chemical application to accurately distinguish healthy crops from disease-stressed ones in order to be sprayed with chemical treatments with precision.

Presentation of certificates

This, the graduands told the delegates at the ceremony, encompasses in protecting the farmer from risk of inhaling the chemicals that can be toxic to the body; to avoid wastage of chemicals by just spraying randomly — a traditional method of chemical application which can be costly due to wastage.

The Lost Child Search and Rescue drone system, which is in line with one of UNICEF’s core of operation in child life-saving and human rights protection, takes away the rigorous physical human rescue operation by just flying the drone in the locality the child was last seen.

Once precisely located, the drone drops a bottle of water in case the child is dehydrated while the rescue team determines the nearest health facility to transport the child to in case they need medical attention.

This technology is also going to be marketed to Department of Disaster & Management to be used as search and rescue for flood, cyclone and other disasters.

The graduands were also certified and accredited by Department of Civil Aviation, which also trained them on flight regulations as according to the country’s aviation laws.

Department of Civil Aviation’s Chief Flight Operations Officer, Captain Hastings Jailosi applauded the Search and Rescue drone system, saying it shall be adopted by the department to be used by airport security and safety services to detect if the airports are surrounded by too many birds.

He also said it might as well be used to spot vandalism and encroachment taking place around the airports.

Captain Jailosi appealed to the graduands that earning their certificate does not mean end of the road but should go back to their bases and continue with researches on drone systems in order to be on top of the game since technology keeps changing.

“I must say what you have gained in the intensive 5 weeks of training has been very fruitful as evidenced by the innovations you presented here.

“It’s now time for you to go back and continue learning in order to bring your techniques to the world. We want to see an aviation patent from Malawi being used elsewhere,” Captain Jailosi said.

These sentiments were shared by UNICEF Malawi’s Chief of Community Development & Resilience, Matteo Frontini, who impressed on the youths that the learning process continues because they need to be up to task to repair problematic drones as well as to commercialize their patents.

“The African Union has taken African Drone and Data Academy as an excellent initiative in its 2063 Agenda, which targets in empowering youths with technology skills.

“The Malawi2063 also has technology enhancement as one of its pillars and this is where you come in because, in your doing business, you are going to impart the skills to many other youths,” he said.

MUST’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Pro. Jonathan Makuwira — who together with Captain Jailosi and Frontini presented the certificates — said the drone revolution is a shift of traditional way of doing business and that there is a lot of entrepreneurship in technology.

“One of MUST’s aims is to contribute to the developments the country in specified fields of this nature,” he said.

Last month, MUST partnered with Technical, Entrepreneurial & Vocational Education and Training Authority (TEVETA) to identify and train community innovations that can be commercialized targeting the high population of unemployment amongst young people.

The initiative is to produce skilled workforce that will support and advance the MW2063 industrialisation agenda and the partnership was applauded by the National Planning Commission, whose Director General Thomas Munthali — as well as directors of science, technology & innovation in the Ministry of Education and of technical & vocational training in Ministry of Labour — graced the signing ceremony.

One of the young trainees at the signing ceremony impressed the guests with his innovation which can trigger off power from an Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) transformer if one pole falls off during a rainstorm cutting off power from buildings in a bid to avoid fire through electrical ripple effects.

The guests were told that ESCOM has already visited MUST to appraise the innovation to technologically advance it further.

Another from Kasungu innovated a portable electrical powered water dispenser without touching it after he noticed that during these trying times of CoVID-19 people are at a risk that they may be carrying the virus on their hands but when they have finished washing their hands, they risk re-carrying the virus when closing the tap on which they had left it there when opening the tap.

Through the training with MUST, the innovation has been advanced to be operated by a rechargeable battery that can last a longer period of time.

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