Drones in Kenya. A Surveyor’s Perspective

It is excitement galore for drone enthusiasts in Kenya with the promulgation of drone regulations at the close of 2020. As a surveyor, the news was a breath of fresh air since that meant we could now use drones to do aerial mapping without looking over the shoulder.

A big thanks to Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) for pushing the regulations to be passed and for allowing public participation that led to adequate consensus building around the regulations. There were some hurdles along the way including some back and forth with members of the August House but the leadership at KCAA stayed the course.

So, in case you want to fly a drone in Kenya, you need licensing from KCAA. Same goes for those who want to import the gadgets for sale in the Country. Once you buy a drone, registration is paramount with KCAA. This will enable them to keep track of which drone is being flown where in case there is a complaint or accident.

If you need the training to become a drone pilot, two affordable training institutions come to mind; Ken-drones and Drone-space. The average cost of training, licensing and medical tests come to about $1,500. It takes about 2 weeks to go through coursework, practicals and exams. Some may argue that $1,500 is a lot of money for 2 weeks of training, but that’s the price you pay for being an early adopter. If you know why you want to be a drone pilot, the ROI on the $1,500 should not take more than a year (Don’t quote me on that).

Having said that, as more drone training schools start mushrooming everywhere the market forces of demand and supply will drive the cost of training downwards (Economics 101). However, there is a comparative advantage for being an early adopter. Opportunities will be scooped up by this lot faster than you can say the word ‘BBI’.

If you’re into photography, a drone will be a good bonus. Aerial shots and videos have a way of capturing an audience. Personally, I marvel at the drone images of picturesque landscapes such as Limuru and Kericho tea estates. To the untrained eye, one might be convinced they’re looking at a picture of a European destination.

Opportunities will be scooped up by this lot faster than you can say the word ‘BBI’

As a Surveyor, am excited that aerial mapping will not be a preserve of companies with the muscle to use choppers and turbo-props. Underdogs will now have a level playing field with the Bulldogs. Even when things get dicey, for instance when dealing with large acreages, drone mappers may take longer to get it done but will also be equal to the task.

Taking aerial shots in the field for mapping is just one part of the process for Surveyors. There is another ballgame that awaits them, that is stitching the images together. That is not to say that it is done manually, but even with processing software the process requires a lot of time and computing power (depending on the scale).

The processing software themselves are not cheap. Pix4D, a premier drone image processing software, costs $3,500 a year. That is twice the price of the drone you’re capturing the images with. Even with Pix4D, an ordinary computer can take overnight (sometimes more than 24 hours) to stitch all the images into one big photo. Some people, therefore, use gaming computers which have enough firepower to deal with such processing demands.

Personally, I prefer Carlson PhotoCapture which is a cloud-based processing software. Once I upload my images on the platform, all I need to do is confirm my Ground Control Points (GCPs) and my images are processed in an Amazon-based cloud server platform. Awesome right? I don’t need gaming computers and all those shenanigans.

The pricing of Carlson Photo Capture is also quite unique in the industry. Access to it is a membership fee of $150 a year. You can then buy gigabytes of photo data uploads as needed. Your purchased data will roll over as long as you retain your membership. Data can be purchased from $199 for 5GB.

After Carlson Photo Capture is done processing your drone imagery, there is no need to rack your brain in drafting a detailed report of your work. A well-written and standardized report is one of the deliverables, aside from the Ortho-image and Digital Elevation Model. If this already sounds too good to be true, Carlson offers a 30-day free trial with 2GB of data for you to play around with before bringing you on board.

If you’ve stuck with me up to this point, it is now time for the big reveal. I am a Carlson Centric Dealer serving the East African Market. Not only can I get you good prices for the Photo Capture, I can hook you up to their full range of products including their most talked about latest offering, the Carlson BRx7. Talk to me!

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