African skyCAM

Africa’s First Drone Journalism Team

A Swiss university drew up plans for a futuristic drone delivery project called Flying Donkey about three years ago. The vision, just like the drone delivery project in Rwanda, was to operate fixed-wing drones in northern Kenya, to supplement postal services.

The project did not take off because the authorities saw it as a threat to security.

Months later, they used the same reason to shut down a conservation project that was to monitor elephants in a conservancy to protect them from poaching.

Commercial use of drones is still a nascent industry in Africa but there is a small but growing community of hobbyists.

Most governments on the continent have clamped down on drone operators by imposing laws that ban or restrict their use, inadvertently killing innovation and locking the countries out of investments that could create jobs.

While there are legitimate concerns about privacy and safety, the absence of progressive drone laws that also cater for innovation means African countries will continue missing out on the multi-billion dollar industry.

In addition to Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius are leading on the continent, having come up with regulations that allow for licensing and operation.

Morocco, Kenya and Uganda have imposed bans and/or restrictions for operations.

In Ghana, drone operators risk up to 30 years in jail if they don’t register their drones.

Read: Rwanda begins Zipline commercial drone deliveries

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Drones finally legal in Kenya

Posted By on Apr 1, 2016

ele & drone marsh

Story published on Business Daily By KIARIE NJOROGE

Posted Thursday, March 31 2016 at 20:45

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has for the first time issued rules guiding the use of drones with the regulations limiting civilians to flying them at a height of 400 feet.

Operators for commercial purposes will have their maximum allowable height determined by KCAA.

The release paves the way for increased use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which is currently highly restricted over security concerns and lack of rules.

“A person shall not operate a RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system) under private and recreational or sports category above 400 feet above ground level,” the regulations say.

The KCAA is seeking stakeholder input in debating the draft before gazettement, which will pave the way for entities like Ol Pejeta Conservancy to deploy drones to fight poaching. The conservancy was in 2014 denied the use of drones on security concerns.

READ: Defence ministry to regulate use of drones on safety fears

The laws will also make it easier for filmmakers and media houses to use the UAVs to enrich their filming.

Kenya recently bought drones from the US to add to the arsenal against Somalia-based Al Shabaab terrorists and the new regulations also set down the rules for flying UAVs beyond Kenyan borders.

The KCAA classifies drones by weight and use. Those of five kilogrammes and below, five-25 kilogrammes and those above 25 kilogrammes.

Under use, drones are classified as those for sports and recreation, those for private use excluding sports and recreation and commercial activities.

Owners of recreation and sports drones will have to be members of clubs registered by the aviation agency. All drone owners will have to take out minimum third party insurance with the KCAA saying it will determine the minimum insurance levels.

The authority further indicates that failure to follow all the rules will attract a maximum of Sh500,000 in fines or a jail term of not more than three months.

Drone owners are only allowed to fly them when there is sufficient visibility with night operations banned, the draft rules say.

Commercial drone owners will be required to have security clearance by the Ministry of Defence and have trained pilots. Those operating drones will have to register them afresh by May 31.

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IMG_4951 (3)

On January 15, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority issued a cease and desist order to individuals and entities operating unmanned aerial vehicles (popularly referred to as drones).

The ordinance advised that operators should seek permission from the Ministry of Defence to fly a drone; it was technically a ban. Not much reason was given that necessitated the order but there was enough to infer that the government was concerned about the health, safety and privacy challenges that may arise when operating drones.

The liberation of drone technology has spawned exciting use cases in the civic space. From farmers who survey their expansive farms to check on plant health, to emergency services that deploy drones as aerial scouts beaming important information to guide operations – all this at a fraction of the cost of using a helicopter.

In journalism, where my interest lies, the technology not only provides a low-cost alternative to aerial imaging, it also opens amazing possibilities in storytelling, for example producing 3D models, livecasting, data and sensor gathering and producing content for virtual reality platforms.

South Africa, unlike Kenya, chose a more informed and consultative route. It banned drones in June 2014, with the South African Civil Aviation Authority acknowledging their civic applications but also giving a convincing case for its concerns. But it went further: it promised to publish recommendations after a year, which it promptly did, and now South Africa is one of the world’s leaders in progressive drone lawmaking.

Sacca even went ahead to license a drone pilot school, which conducted a highly successful proof of concept project at the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, resulting in a 92 percent drop in rhino poaching incidents. Contrast this with Kenya, which at the same time stopped a progressive drone project, Aerial Ranger, at Ol-Pejeta’s conservancy, a tool meant to help in the anti-poaching war and also provide e-tourism products, again citing security. Flying Donkey, another futuristic project proposing Amazon type delivery drones but on a much bigger scale, was also caught up in the predictable web of security concerns. Uganda and Morocco have also adopted the copycat reaction of banning drones.

I have been running African skyCAM, the continent’s first drone journalism project, for close to three years now. The project, a winner of the African News Innovation Challenge, was a response to how Kenyan journalists were covering flood stories.

They were risking life and expensive equipment trying to get as close as they could to submerged houses and usually relied on police helicopters for aerial tours of the affected areas. We have covered a political rally, conservation projects, floods and produced the first ever 3D model of the Dandora dumpsite. We have succeeded in making a compelling and convincing case for the use of drones in storytelling.

I have just spent 10 months at Stanford University in the US where I was researching ways to promote safe and responsible use of drones in journalism in Africa.

As part of my fellowship, I organised a conference to discuss drone use in newsgathering. The event, the first of its kind in Silicon Valley, was made possible with the support of the News Lab at Google and the Center for Investigative Reporting. The event was graced by academics, lawyers, journalists and drone manufacturers, who discussed use cases for drones, regulation and the future of the technology.

In the US the Federal Aviation Authority, which had been unwilling to engage industry players, has been forced to relent after a political and industry pressure. The US law, which had banned commercial operation while allowing hobbyists to fly, had forced companies to take their research outside the US. Emerging technology trend forecaster ABI Research recently published a report stating that by 2019 the small unmanned aerial vehicle commercial sector will have revenues exceeding $5.1 billion.

By restricting UAV use African countries not only exclude themselves from a rapidly growing industry, they also miss out on opportunities to harness the technology for social good. While I appreciate the valid concerns of the respective governments, the restrictive approach is counterproductive for this innovative technology, and prevents African countries from capitalising on the rapidly expanding commercial UAV market.It’s encouraging however that the Kenyan government is considering reviewing its restriction on civic uses cases but it’s crucially important that we encourage conversation not confrontation.

South Africa’s proposed drone school could be a good idea but what does it mean for fully-automated drones which can be pre-programmed by anyone using a tablet or a smartphone and therefore does not require flying skills as a determinant?

There are issues of law, insurance and other emerging trends that need to be thrashed out. After successfully organising the drone journalism conference in Berkeley, California I vowed to bring the conversation to the continent.

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The future of drone journalism is …?

During the conference, we asked drone journalism experts to envision the future of drone journalism. Here’s what they told us:



Drone technology is transforming journalistic storytelling.

BY DAWN GARCIA, MANAGING DIRECTOR John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships | May 5, 2015 – Originally published on

Cameras attached to drones can capture amazing, engaging visual content, but drones also offer new ways to capture data through sensors attached to drones, not to mention the ability to get into areas otherwise inaccessible to journalists. And the technology has gotten smaller and cheaper and easier to use (and fancier, and more high tech, too, if you like to go in that direction).

It’s obvious that drone technology is here to stay, and it’s in everyone’s interest to better understand it and how best to incorporate it safely — and legally — into journalism.

With that in mind, a group of more than 100 journalists and technologists gathered in Berkeley recently for the first-ever conference focused specifically on the use of drones in reporting. On April 22, the JSK Journalism Fellowships at Stanford, The Center for Investigative Reporting and the News Lab at Google hosted Techraking: Elevating the News.

After years of confusing regulations and drone test flights, we are entering a new era where the rules will become clearer — and the real possibility that drones could become a common reporting tool in U.S. newsrooms within a few years.

It’s currently against the law for journalists to fly drones for commercial use (also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) in the United States — and in many other nations. But in February, the Federal Aviation Administration finally posted its proposed rules for using drones in commercial work (including journalism) and the public comment period ended April 24. With some exceptions, the proposed rules look surprisingly flexible, according to drone journalism experts.

Reasons to be excited about drones in journalism

Elevating the News, a unique convening of journalists, technologists and drone manufacturers, brought together some of the best minds in the emerging drone journalism field. Conference attendees heard the latest developments in drone journalism, then collaborated on some innovative drone-reporting ideas that could introduce drones to newsrooms.

The winning idea was Drone Hound, led by 2013 JSK Journalism Fellow and now CIR Senior Editor Andrew Donohue, 2015 JSK Journalism Fellow Michael Morisy and AJ+ Executive Producer David Cohn. Drones would collect air samples in areas of high pollution and send the findings to a mobile app. Other teams suggested challenging the ban on drone use in Africa, using drones to survey populations, and creating repositories of drone images and videos.

How did this event happen?

The conference came together because of a unique partnership between CIR, the JSK Journalism Fellowships and the News Lab At Google. What we have in common is a deep interest in fostering innovation in journalism. The JSK Journalism Fellowships selects 20 outstanding journalists and journalism innovators from around the world to spend a year at Stanford University and seek solutions to challenges facing journalism. Two of our JSK Journalism Fellows are responsible for sparking the idea for this event: Sam Stewart (2013) and Dickens Olewe, a current fellow.

Stewart has been flying UAVs since 2013 as a way to take photos and videos from new perspectives. Dickens first thought he would dedicate his fellowship to creating a drones journalism working group that would focus on best practices for journalism. As he began to research and make more contacts, the idea shifted to bringing together leading experts in the field to discuss the use of UAVs in news reporting. We took the idea to our friends at CIR. Robert Rosenthal, CIR’s executive director, Joaquin Alvarado, CIR’s CEO and Kristin Belden, CIR’s events director, were excited to collaborate with us.

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Old stories, new perspectives. This is the mantra of Stanford John S. Knight Journalism Fellow Dickens Olewe, especially in regards to drone journalism. Engineers, journalists and drone enthusiasts alike gathered at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, Calif., for the ninth TechRaking conference on April 22.

In addition to live drone demonstrations and panel discussions by regulatory experts, conference-goers formed teams and pitched ideas for innovative drone usage.

“We’re talking about exciting applications we can do with this technology,” said Olewe, whose project African skyCAM won the inaugural African News Innovation Challenge in 2012.

In light of new FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations and similar laws the world over regarding unmanned aerial vehicles, participants discussed how new laws would affect and possibly limit the use of drones in media. Currently, use of drones by media is not legal and proposed FAA regulations are expected in the fall.

While many panelists brainstormed the wide potential for both recreational and commercial UAV use, others went even further to suggest that drones may become a household appliance in the near future.

“The future of drone journalism is actually boring,” said Matt Waite, University of Nebraska–Lincoln professor and founder of the Drone Journalism Lab. “It is now and it will always be a tool. It’s a tool to tell stories, a tool to gather information.”

The TechRaking conference was hosted by The Center for Investigative Reporting, the News Lab at Google and Stanford University’s John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship program.

Courtesy of

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Pushing the boundaries of drone journalism, this video shows African SkyCAM’s three-dimensional virtual recreation of Nairobi’s Dandora Dumpsite, and demonstrates how drone produced content is not limited to aerial video and images. The video also shows how to navigate the 3D model, which was created by Ben Kreimer from images he captured using a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter.

Experience the model for yourself:

Dandora Dumpsite in Nairobi, Kenya
by African skyCAM
on Sketchfab


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Dandora Dumpsite 3D Model

Dandora Dumpsite 3D Model

Posted By on Nov 25, 2014

Tip: Use an updated version of Firefox or Chrome to interact with the above three-dimensional model. Click the eyeball ‘viewer mode’ button and select ‘first person’ to experience flying through the Dandora dumpsite like a bird or our African SkyCAM drone. Use the arrow keys to move and steer by clicking and dragging with your mouse.


by Ben Kreimer

One of African SkyCAM’s aims is to demonstrate how drones provide new, experiential perspectives and add unique context to stories. This includes exploring the different ways a drone can tell a story, beyond simply taking aerial images and video. The above three-dimensional model demonstrates one such storytelling application of a drone.

African SkyCAM’s Ben Kreimer collaborated with Matt Rhodes, a journalist for VICE News, to do a story about Nairobi’s controversial Dandora dumpsite and the people surviving off its refuse.


Dandora dumpsite, located in the Nairobi suburb of Eastlands.

Rhodes approached African SkyCAM seeking aerial video and images of the landfill to complement his footage shot on the ground. In addition to capturing aerial video and images for the story, Kreimer also produced the above three-dimensional model as proof-of-concept to demonstrate the potential for using drones to create virtual environments for media consumers to explore as part of the storytelling process. Such digital visualizations add an experiential element to stories that was not possible before the emergence of drone technology.


DJI Phantom 2 modified by Ben Kreimer.

The Dandora three-dimensional model is a synthesis of 574 still photographs captured by a Canon SX260 HS

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camera mounted underneath a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter. Kreimer programmed the quadcopter to systematically fly back and forth across the landfill while the camera, always pointing straight towards the ground, automatically took a photograph every two seconds. Below are three images that became part of the three-dimensional model.


A school bordering the Dandora dump and separated by the Nairobi River.

IMG_3368_yellow bags-SkyCam

Yellow trash bags from Kenya Airways.


The epicenter of dumping activity on the day this photograph was taken.

After capturing aerial images the photographs were processed in Agisoft PhotoScan, a program that processes image batches and creates three-dimensional models. During the process of creating a model, PhotoScan can also produce two-dimensional image mosaics, like the one seen below, featuring all 574 images stitched together into a single photograph.



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