Students Discuss the Future of Droneports to Benefit the Region Surrounding Lake Victoria

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Researchers in the School of Architecture were invited to participate in the Lake Victoria Challenge (LVC) Trial Symposium, October 29-31, 2018. The event drew nearly three hundred people to Mwanza, Tanzania to explore the possibilities of using cargo drones in Africa in the immediate future. This first-of-its-kind symposium was organized by the Tanzanian government with numerous partners including, the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, UNICEF, and Aerial Futures.

The region of Lake Victoria (the world’s second largest fresh water lake) is considered to be the most densely populated rural area of the world, as it is home to more than 30 million people. Although outstandingly beautiful and culturally vibrant, the region suffers numerous challenges that make the current era extremely difficult. The population suffers an estimated 30% HIV prevalence – one of the highest densities of HIV in the world. A lack of health infrastructure and environmental regulation, food insecurity caused by over-fishing, and a lack of sanitation are linked to causes of this public health crisis. The LVC sought to imagine how cargo drones could improve medical supply and service chains, connect isolated areas to commercial opportunities, and assist in disaster response. The symposium was divided into three exploratory tracks: regulation, technology, and infrastructure.

“The infrastructure track was definitely my most impactful experience in Tanzania,” said Jassu. “There were very many people with diverse backgrounds from both local and global communities all trying to solve the same problem. Because of my experiences growing up in this part of Africa, I felt very equipped to be able to serve the team by offering design perspectives based on my experiences in America as well as keeping my cultural experiences in Africa at the forefront. This was definitely a great way for me to contribute towards solving the problem, and I ended up being part of the team that presented the design guidelines for the droneport to the entire conference. This was quite exciting for me and the entire Georgia Tech team.”

Jonathan Dessi-Olive, Ventulett NEXT Generation Visiting Fellow, and Keith Kaseman, assistant professor, along with Master of Architecture students, Daniela Marquez and Joel Jassu, joined over a dozen other experts from around the world in architecture, engineering, drone technology, digital fabrication, and community leadership for a think tank on droneports, a new typology for civic space in East Africa. The infrastructure track at the Lake Victoria Challenge Trial built on the 2016 Droneport concept for Rwanda by the Red Line group in collaboration with the Norman Foster Foundation and Jonathan Ledgard.

“An immediate benefit of droneports is the speed of connectivity to other communities around the lake,” said Marquez. “While we were there, we learned of how Mwanza is a major medical distribution center for the region, and to deliver such supplies via traditional transportation methods, it can take many hours. However, with drones it could be speed it up to a fraction of the time. So, when timeliness is of high importance, such as medical emergencies, a droneport that expedites these services could change many people's lives.”

With the help and expertise of the Georgia Tech team, the infrastructure track at the LVC developed guidelines and priorities for safe, cheap droneports for Mwanza and the greater region of Lake Victoria. Whereas current civic spaces in the region are centered around schools, churches, or soccer pitches, the Mwanza Droneport is envisioned as a totally new type of iconic civic space; a beacon of local pride that is empathetic, women-centric, and serves as a hub for stable energy, internet, and digital fabrication. Droneports are, therefore, not objects, nor buildings, but rather places in and of themselves. The group further observed that droneports must exist within highly distributed network of open droneports with local business models that make more imaginative use of development bank and private sector investment toward an array of positive outcomes for the people of the region.

“The testing ground for the droneports is right in the region where I grew up in as a child and knowing the logistical challenges and being able to be a part of a team that is strategically thinking to solve this logistical problem is exciting,” said Jassu as he reflected on the importance of the project, especially from the prospective of an architecture student. “I definitely think there is hope and more to explore as we rethink the logistical framework of Africa as well as create a completely new typology of civic space. It is clearly one of those projects that if I got the opportunity to further work on, it would be one of the greatest ways for me to give back to my local community after having lived in this region and had a chance to get a Western education in architecture.”

After making a visit to a potential site for a droneport on Juma Island (approximately one hour from Mwanza by small boat), the infrastructure track gathered for a droneport brainstorming session led by Aerial Futures. Recognizing the rich and far reaching potential at hand, the Georgia Tech team helped facilitate the discussion and synthesized the plethora of concerns that were brought to the table. Following the discussion, the team produced presentation materials, which were delivered by the Marquez and Jassu alongside Ledgard to the entire symposium.

“This project allows for a new architectural typology to be considered and developed with most people who will be affected by it being directly involved in the conversation. Something as impactful as droneports, now contains the utmost potential of becoming a significant and positive part of communities, while at the same time, being at the forefront of establishing the typology itself,” said Marquez. “As architecture students we're often given a typology to interpret in our work, but the framework is already there. Here, the typology has yet to exist, concretely, and that's very exciting to explore.”

Plans are already in the works for the team’s return to Mwanza in June 2019 for the second iteration of the Lake Victoria Challenge.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: cwagster3
  • Created: 12/10/2018
  • Modified By: cwagster3
  • Modified: 12/10/2018


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