Drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have really come to the fore worldwide with their versatility and numerous use cases that have increased efficiency in a number of industries. Locally, Tawanda Chihambakwe has been at the front lines of this effort. For anyone who might not know who he is, Tawanda is a licenced drone instructor and pilot as well as the founder of Precision Aerial, Managing Director of the Flying Labs Zimbabwe and best-selling author.
Yesterday, Tawanda Chihambakwe held a presentation which was attended by directors of ZESA, ZETDC and a delegation from the Rwandan Energy Group. The demonstration was held at Precision Aerial’s local space and there were a plethora of drones on display from multirotor race crafts to a massive crop-spraying drone.
Issues that exist in Zim with maintaining electrical infrastructure
We are all too familiar with power cuts caused by Zimbabwe’s ageing electrical infrastructure. One of the problems with maintaining such a vast network is that ZESA can’t effectively inspect its lines and substations. This means that ZESA cannot pre-empt the failure of power lines in the manner that it would like.
It is easy to assume that it takes a fault for the local authorities to realise that the infrastructure was in disrepair. However, this sort of thing is where drones can come in and reduce the costs as well as help ZESA better plan for maintenance exercises that are truly “scheduled”.
Precision Aerial’s pitch to ZESA and Rwanda Energy
The folks at Precision Aerial aren’t just going to hand authorities drones and let them figure it out. The startup has what I think is a comprehensive plan to ensure that the equipment can bring the best value to them and the taxpayer.
The first and most obvious port of call is training. As earlier mentioned, Tawanda Chihambakwe is a licenced instructor. He and his team can give ZESA engineers the skills they need in order to properly operate the drones. This means that they will go through a rigorous certification process that will make them in effect, professionals.
The second thing that Precision Aerial is offering, are the drones themselves. If the power utilities come on board they will be able to either lease a fleet or outright purchase ones if they so wish.
One of the models that is an industry favourite is made by Chinese company DJI and is called the Matrice 300. It has a flight time of 55 mins and can be equipped with a range of cameras and sensors that can help ZESA assess power lines and infrastructure without constantly needing to put staff in harm’s way.
However, even before they set off to the site, ZESA could employ fixed-wing drones that map large areas. Some of these drones have ranges over 100 km. This will allow the power utility to assess a route or line and see if trees in the area need to be trimmed or cut and the terrain changes technicians can prepare for.
Precision Aerial will also be offering data processing for the power utilities. It’s all well and good to collect information on these flights but how it is used and visualised is something else entirely.
Lastly, Tawanda Chihambakwe and his team offer training for executives so they can better understand flights and missions. It’s easy for subordinates to say that they have done a job and without comprehension of the systems those making the decisions won’t know how effective the technology is.
This means that those in the boardroom (and adjacent) will be able to see if the investment made is being properly used and is saving them money.
It’s good to see that ZESA is engaging a local startup
We all know that our government has a tendency of going the long way around and across borders to solve problems that local startups have solutions for. It would have been easy for them to put out a tender and then contract some foreign company to do the work.
However, the folks at the ZESA and ZETDC took the time to listen to a local entrepreneur. They even brought their counterparts from Rwanda, who were in the country for a joint exercise, to sit in.
This is exactly what want to see more of from the government and its parastatals. Zimbabwe is only open for business when the authorities are giving opportunities and growing the local business ecosystem.