Airware startup combats rhino poaching with cutting edge drones in Kenya


Where there’s a problem, there’s a buck to be made. In Africa, wildlife conservation is one of those problems. While Kenya lost 50 rhinos in 2013 alone, South Africa recorded a massive loss of 946. Robotics startup Airware recently announced that it has partnered with East Africa’s largest black rhino sanctuary Ol Pejeta Conservancy to demonstrate a drone specifically designed for conservation.

Originally based in San Francisco but currently operating in Kenya, Airware is showcasing anti-poaching UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) in an effort to demonstrate an effective and innovative tool for wildlife conservation.

This is not the first time a company has set up shop to allow its innovations to take its course for the greater good. Last year in June, Google donated US$5-million to the World Wildlife Federation in an effort to fund a drone program aimed at relieving poaching in areas such as Nepal and Sub-Saharan Africa — showing it’s an area left in dire need of innovation.

Moreover, the technology will also make it possible for the conservancy to conduct wildlife censuses more frequently and effectively. Robots and wildlife, who would have thought?

By using Airware’s autopilot platform and control software, the drone acts as a surveillance tool, sending real-time digital video and thermal imaging feeds of animals and poachers alike to rangers on the ground. From launch to land, the flight is completely autonomous and requires only minimal training.

Compared to the alternative of a conventional manned aircraft, UAVs pose a cost effective method of scouting Africa’s vast wildlife plains.

Apart from wildlife conservation, the drone industry is showing massive potential for other areas suggests Airware CEO Jonathan Downey. “The commercial drone space is a major growth market with applications like precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection and search and rescue,” Downey says.

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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