Rwanda has been chosen as the test case for the world’s first droneport. Pilotless cargo drones will deliver urgent supplies or medicines to inaccessible remote areas and provide an affordable alternative to road transport in the mountainous East African country.
British architects Foster + Partners, in association with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and its linked Afrotech initiative, have drawn up proposals for a hub structure, based on their experience in building airports and lunar building studies alongside the European Space Agency.
The brick structure, with a minimal ground footprint, is intended to be easily put together locally. The initial plan for three buildings, to be completed by 2020, will enable the network to send supplies to 44% of the country. Subsequent phases could see in excess of 40 droneports across Rwanda, with expansion to neighbouring countries.
The droneport will also host other services such as a health clinic, a post and courier room, a drone manufacturing centre, and an e-commerce trading hub, allowing it to become part of local community life.
Two parallel networks are planned for droneport transportation: the Redline for delivering medical supplies, such as units of blood, along an 80 kilometre route between several towns and villages; and the Blueline to operate a more conventional delivery service, transporting larger payloads such as spare parts, electronics and e-commerce, complementing and subsidising the Redline network.
Initially, the project will deploy three-metre wingspan drones, capable of carrying a payload of 10kg. By 2025, drones with a six-metre wingspan, capable of carrying payloads of 100kg, are planned to follow.