equipment which was likely piloted by a civilian, in an event which featured commercial and military aircraft indicates the acceptance of a flying camera as a tool to capture images. At the DARC conference in New York, participants largely agreed that one of the main challenges for civilian use of drones is
a ‘perception problem’ , I am sure KAA would have had reservations for the same equipment they proudly displayed if it was called a ‘drone’.
I applied for funding for the SkyCAM project under the name AfricanDrone, which I later realized was a distraction when I went to defend the project at a Tech Camp in Zanzibar, hosted by ANIC, for the competition’s finalists. The word drone has been militarized and I found that people focussed more on the equipment’s use as a
off some of the driving routes in the park. The park’s entrance has been particularly affected; the flood waters have spread to the parking lot.
The above picture, published in the Nation newspaper, depicts the extent of the flooding. The building is the Kenya Wildlife Services office in the park. The same picture angle is likely to be used by television crew when covering the flood story, a UAV however can bring out rich footage and give journalists a view from above at a low cost compared to hiring a helicopter.
Kamal, James, Kevin and I left Nairobi at 7am for the two hour journey to Lake Nakuru National park. We set out to capture the extent of the flooding in the park and to understand the cause and the effects of the floods. I spoke to Adan Kala, the park’s senior warden. He told me the levels of all the lakes in the Rift Valley
. He attributed the rising water levels to afforestation of the Mau forest; which has been marked for conservation efforts, after years of illegal logging. He also said that the heavy rainfall in the Rift Valley area cannot be ruled out as a reason for the rising water levels. He also suggested that the we could be witnessing effects of climate change;he said some seasonal rivers that feed Lake Nakuru have not dried up for a year and a half.
Mr Kala told me that experts are concerned about the phenomena and attendant effects and have convened a conference in Naivasha, next month. I asked him about the flamingoes, the park’s main attraction, he said the birds had migrated to Lake
Bogoria, and that the migration cannot necessarily be attributed to the flooding since its level had also increased. He however said that it’s likely that the hot springs at Lake Bogoria created the right conditions for algae to grow, better than Lake Nakuru, which flamingoes feed on.
SkyCAM’s inaugural flight was as Baboon Cliff, another attraction in the park. Despite strong winds and the morning drizzle, the flight was smooth. Kamal, our pilot for the day, expertly controlled the drone, A DJI Phantom, to about 80ft and stabilized. The buzzing
noise attracted curiosity of some tourists with some taking pictures of the drone. James and Kevin, were the cameramen for the day, complementing the aerial shots taken by the drone. We also deployed the drone at the park’s only waterfall.
The Kenya Wildlife service, who manage the park, have curved new roads in the park, the game drive is still as enjoyable. The animals have moved to the
southern part of the park which is not flooded. Visitors can still enjoy the beauty and diversity of the flora and fauna the park has to offer. We got a good view of two male lions before we left the park, well pleased that we have opened a new front for journalism in Kenya.
Rift Valley. I have of course heard of the area and seen it on a few documentaries over the years but to be actually going to an area renowned for its beauty and wildlife is something so different it is hard to explain. My trip of a lifetime was made even more special, as it coincided with the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s independence.
I had no idea about the ongoing issue of the lakes flooding when I was preparing to fly out to Kenya. I first heard of it when my friend said that she hoped that the lakes hadn’t risen any more. I then read an article on the flooding in the ‘Saturday Nation.’ I was only too happy to be given the task of writing about the crisis in a feature.
There have been a number of stories about the flooding of the lakes in the Rift Valley over the last few years.
I was in Kenya to visit my friend who is a teacher in Nairobi and after her school broke up for the holidays we had arranged to partake in a road trip visiting destinations on the Nakuru, Baringo and Naivasha Lakes.
I did not expect the differing responses and explanations I was going to hear: or the sadness that the slowly creeping water would enshroud me in.
On the way to our first port of call, Lion Hill, in the Nakuru National Park as we approached the park we noticed that we could not use the main gate as the road beyond it, which we should use, was flooded. It was a bit of a shock to notice that the offices that used to be alongside the gate were now heavily flooded and standing in metres of water. My friend commented that the last time she was there that the lake was not up so far.
Further problems occurred when we actually drove in another gate due to the fact that many of the roads were completely gone and so finding our way around was difficult.
Later, talking to an employee in the Nakuru Park I found out that there were concerns that the rising lake was having a knock on effect to the tourism in the area. The employee was under the impression that the water was rising due to deforestation and rain
During a ride around the park, Charles, our driver said he thought that it was the amount of rain that had fallen causing the lake to flood. Yet, when I asked him why the waterfall was not full, as one would expect it to be with the amount of flooding occurring, he told me that it was a different sort of water which baffled me.
I was horrified by the drastic changes that the driver and my friend were explaining about the area. There
was a paucity of Flamingos and you could not walk out to the base of the lake as you were able to previously due to several metres of flood water. In fact looking out at the lake you realised that there used to be a road junction in the vicinity. The only reason that I noticed this was because I saw a road sign slowly sinking 20 metres out into the lake.
The next stop was Lake Baringo and Island Camp. We stopped to pay to get into the park. When we did a man approached the car. His mission was simple. He was asking me for a donation so the community could rebuild a local orphanage as the old one had been wiped out in the flooding. This man thought that deforestation had something to do with the water levels rising in the lake.
Driving along the road towards Island Camp I noticed that the river beds were not flowing, they were as dry as a bone, even the river that my friend said always had water in it, yet, in contrast the lakes were flooding the dry areas. We had to drive all over the bush to
get to the jetty for a boat to take us to our hotel as the original road and jetty was now under water.
As we were boarding at the new jetty the guide pointed to the right of us saying that there was a petrol station under the water and the hotel that stood there was now flooded.
When we were pulling up to the new landing spot on the island I found it pretty chilling that the old reception was actually beneath our boat and that tent number one was also under the water along with six other tents.
During our stay my travel companion mentioned that there was a lack of birds and other animals on the island that were normally seen during previous holidays.
I started to converse with the island’s part owner, Perry Hennesey. When I asked what he thought was happening with the flooding he said: “I think that it is a cycle that we have never seen before things change after a while. It might be that there are no people alive today who saw this cycle the last time around.”
“I was talking to a village elder the other day who said that we would experience this rain until April. It is alarming there is so much water in the lake. A friend had a house and it flooded and then the waters receded in April and so she moved back into her house and then by the following August the house was flooded again by nine metres. Now she is in a house further up but the lake is still rising.”
Other visitors to the camp were also as surprised by the changes in the lake and island.
Perry explained that his fish farm had disappeared since the last time the other holiday makers
were on the island. Not to mention the fact that I thought there were two other islands across the way but they were actually the same island I was standing on. It was scary to think that the nest of three islands used to be one and it served to remind me of the destructive power of water.
During a boat ride on the second day at Island Camp the guide told us that the Hippos were going to a different part of the lake as their usual habitat was too steep for them to get out of the water now-a-days. The hot spas were now under the water and if you looked closely
you could see the bubbles coming up to the surface. It was disturbing to think how many tourists before me had been able to get off the boats and take a look at the spas. I then wondered what would be the case if I return and if the water recedes will I be able to see the beauty that is lost. ‘If’ being the operative word here: or will they sink even further under the water.
A more unsettling issue struck me as we sailed past a hospital in one area of the lake which was very much under water; it was alarming to see ‘CDF Project Kokwa Maternity Wing’ written on the top of the building. This brought many questions to my mind; where were the women going to deliver their babies now, what was happening to them and how safe were the mothers and babies?
Sailing back to the mainland after we finished our stay I reflected on how sad it would be for Perry to lose more tents or the whole section of the island his business is on. The area is so beautiful and tranquil. It is a precarious way for anyone to live with the knowledge that they are slowly drowning, literally.
Our next stop took us to Elsamere next to Lake Naivasha I must confess that we did not see much of the lake except from a distance but it had risen about nine feet according to an employee. Again, after asking the question did they know why the lake was rising two employees had different ideas one being the rain and the other said it was down to deforestation, siltation and the fact that a tribe has been removed from their land by the President and the trees are no longer being taken care of in the proper way.
If you ask, everyone has their own ideas on why the water in the lakes are rising: from tectonic plates, rainfall, deforestation, in one case something to
do with the Aswan Dam or Lake Victoria but the fact is no one knows what is happening. (Or if they do they are not telling.) Perry from Island Camp asked the most important question though: “Thousands of people have been displaced so why is nothing being done about this situation?” I must admit I would like to know the answer to this question too.
If this crisis is not monitored and dealt with properly, it could have even more serious effects, on not just the people who live in the surrounding areas, but the wildlife, tourism and the way of life in this hauntingly beautiful region.
I attended the Drones & Aerial Robotics Conference in New York last weekend.The conference was the first ever multidisciplinary meetup about aerial robotics, with a focus on civilian applications. It brought together hobbyist, drone manufacturers, journalists and industry observers to explore the use of drones.
There was a general agreement that civilian use of drones faces a lot of challenges, mostly to do with perception and limiting aviation laws. A test case in the US, FAA vs Team Black Sheep could define the challenges and opportunities for the
industry. The community however appreciated the need to have some regulations to guide the operation of drones and ensure it’s within the law.
Credible concerns have been raised by the government and the public about civilian use of drones, and there have been a number of incidents and accidents that have informed this opinion. Indeed such concerns were evident in the conference with some delegates opposing civilian use of drones because they have largely been used as military equipments. A group called the Granny Peace Brigade protested outside the conference venue.
Despite the challenges, the opportunities that the technology brings are innumerable. It’s now up to lobbies including journalist to demonstrate and justify the need, cost and safety of operating flying cameras.
At AfricanSkyCAM, we aim to work with the aviation authorities, alongside other lobbies in the community to establish a training, licensing and certification regime that guarantees that flying cameras are operated by those qualified to use them and that the equipment meets safety standards. An interesting
proposition is the creation of a flight plan. The BBC, represented at the conference by Ant Miller, revealed that; it files a flight plan, which does not have to be pre-approved by authorities, but it’s a document of record. In Kenya, we seek to work with authorities to map out areas of operation, I think this will be key in establishing a proof of concept and begin the process of carving out areas of operation.
AfricanSkyCAM has received the first tranche of the funding from ANIC. The objectives of the first phase is to buy a test equipment and train staff in the operation. I met different industry
manufacturers and hobbyist at the DARC conference and they have offered to join our diverse team of advisers. Sergei Lupashin from Swiss Federal Insitute of Technology demoed fotokite
http://www.fotokite.com/ , we plan to acquire fotokite, as a test drone. Also, RadioAfrica group, the company that owns the Star publication, has just bought a UAS http://www.dji.com/feature/phantom-features/ which can be used alongside fotokite for test projects.This means that we will save on part of the funding and deploy it in developing material and resources to kickstart drone journalism in the continent.
the flying cameras to cover cover floods and conservation stories in the next few weeks. We are also likely to partner with AeroSee, a project of Media Innovation Lab, an initiative of University of Central Lancashire, UK, for various projects.
My take away from the conference is rather obvious but a reminder that a drone is just a tool. In our case we
On The 25th of July, Paul Egglestone, the project lead for AeroSee , an exciting new project that crowd sources intelligence using a drone, piloted a ‘virtual’ mountain rescue operation where volunteers helped in identifying and verifying images relayed from a drone.
AeroSee is proof of concept pilot for drone journalism. In partnership
mission aided by a drone. The images captured by the camera mounted on the drone were relayed on a dedicated website where volunteers tagged images to help with the rescue. 335 volunteers participated.The trial was a success,see – http://www.aerosee.org/leaderboard.php
Alongside Paul, SkyCAM will benefit from the knowledge and experience of
in Kenya. Most recently, a Mr Chris Galili, was interviewed on Kenyan TV station about his custom made drone.
The buzz created following the interview in social media revealed that most Kenyans are not aware that there’s an active hobbyist community in the country. In fact, Chris admitted that he thinks his ‘innovation’ is the first in Kenya. A friend recently shared this video of his neighbour flying a drone.
Importantly, Chris raised a fundamental concern that could hinder civilian operation of UAVs. Kenya aviation laws are silent on the legality of operating drones. This lacuna in
recent coverage of drone use has inadvertently started curving a softer image and a more acceptable space for the use of drones. Conservationists have been at the forefront of calling for the use of UAV to complement their conservation efforts. The argument they (conservationists) are fronting is a change of strategy needed to curb runaway
of the most endangered animals. Conservationists have argued that putting more wardens on the ground is no longer adequate to guard the animals.
The Kenyan army is also reportedly using drones in its combat missions in Somalia. Recent reports have also suggested that drones could be used to monitor the country’s borders to stop arms smuggling. Chris appearance on Kenyan TV, is also important in sustaining the momentum of drone use. These developments are an important precursor to media’s use of UAVs in journalism. Public awareness is key for drones to be accepted as a journalism tool, also a friendly policy framework is easily developed with input from stakeholders/ lobbies with interest in the use of UAVs.