Rwanda Pioneers Drone Regulation

Rwanda will become the first country in the world to adopt performance-based regulations of drones in its national airspace, the country said in an announcement made at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 23.

The regulations were co-designed with the Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Center in California and could lead the way for the safe introduction of drones and flying taxis worldwide.

Conventional approaches to drone regulation, focused on specific equipment requirements, are struggling to keep up with the pace of technological innovation. A performance-based approach allows both regulators and operators to respond dynamically to technical challenges, including ensuring the safety of the public,according to a statement from the Rwandan government. This promises to open up the airspace to more operators and applications, thereby spurring business development and social impact.

“G-7 countries have already expressed interest in reviewing the data from Rwanda in order to help craft their own regulations,” Zvika Krieger, head of tech policy at the Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Center, said in an interview with The Innovator in Davos. He points to the collaboration as an example of how the Center wants to work with governments to co-design policy frameworks to govern the introduction of new technologies.

The performance-based regulations are expected to lead to a greater variety of drone operators, operations and systems in use, says Timothy Reuter, Project Head, Civil Drones For Tomorrow’s Commerce, at the Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Center.

When the Government of Rwanda partnered with Silicon-Valley based company Zipline in 2016, it was a strategic step to pioneer the use of drones to deliver essential supplies to rural hospitals. Over three thousand deliveries, including the timely provision of blood to hemorrhaging mothers during childbirth., have been made by drone.

“Building on the success of Zipline’s blood delivery technology, we are working to nurture a drone industry,” Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa, Rwanda’s Minister of Information Technology and Communication, said in a statement. “ Rwanda has put technology at the center of its economic transformation As we look to the future, we will continue to put in place the infrastructure and policy frameworks that accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies to transform people’s lives.”

Indeed, it “now might be possible for operators to deliver more than just blood in Rwanda — farmers will be able to deliver flowers into logistics hubs, remote locations will be landing zones to help the fight against poachers, and new types of drones and control mechanisms will reinvent the very concept of what flight requires,” says Harrison Wolf, Project Lead, Drones, Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Outside of Rwanda governments are grappling with how to integrate safely drones and autonomous vehicles such as flying taxis with airplane traffic. Within a short period of time there will be so many flying vehicles that it will no longer be possible for human air control traffickers to keep up. Rwanda intends to be among the first to test autonomous traffic control systems.