In 2017 the World Economic Forum teamed up with the Government of Rwanda to draft the world’s first framework for governing drones at scale. Lessons from this experience have helped contribute to a drone operations toolkit that was launched at the Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos. The Forum is now working with governments and companies in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America to help them craft policies that will bring all the benefits of drone technology to society while minimizing its risks.
What’s the challenge?
Drones can do many wonderful things – from delivering goods to your doorstep in record time and mapping vast stretches of land, to providing food and medicine to sick or crisis-affected populations. Yet their upsides are often overshadowed by concerns about privacy, collisions and other potential dangers.
To make matters worse, governments are struggling to regulate drones. Rapid innovations in drone technology mean that drones come in many different shapes and sizes and are constantly evolving. Governments simply have not been able to keep up with the changing technological landscape. Antiquated policies focused on specific equipment requirements have blocked the most socially and economically impactful drone use cases from being undertaken – until now.
Rwanda was the first country to rethink and implement the public sector’s approach to regulating drones. In 2016, the Rwandan government partnered with the San Francisco-based startup Zipline to launch the world’s first large-scale drone delivery system, which transported blood, vaccines and other medical supplies to rural hospitals in Rwanda. When countless lives were saved thanks to this programme, the Government of Rwanda decided it needed to overhaul its drone regulations to be able to unlock the full potential of drone technology.
By partnering with the World Economic Forum, the Government of Rwanda was able to work with the Forum’s dedicated team of leading drone experts to design and pilot “performance-based regulations” for drones. These regulations work by setting safety requirements that need to be met, instead of equipment specifications or limitations. At a time when drone manufacturers are continuously experimenting with new designs, this revolutionary paradigm allows for flexibility in creating many different types of drones fit for different purposes. It also enables governments to keep pace with innovations in drone technology while maintaining safety standards.
When the Rwandan government approved this performance-based regulatory framework in January 2018, it opened the door for drone manufacturers and operators to test their new products as long as they could prove that certain safety standards were met – the first type of drone regulation to do this.
The Forum’s Drones and Tomorrow’s Airspace team continues to work with Rwanda to help the country grow its drone industry and enable beneficial applications of drone technology, ranging from infrastructure inspections to agricultural land surveys. The team is also partnering with 11 other countries on four continents which are eager to replicate Rwanda’s success story, helping them craft tailored policies for their drone industries and connecting them with drone manufacturers who want to find socially beneficial uses for their cutting-edge products.
“We have taken the regulatory framework that Rwanda has passed and the work that the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority had done as models for our work. We want to have a flexible, scalable regulatory framework.” — A senior aviation safety technician from the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority
How can you get involved?
The World Economic Forum works with governments, businesses, technology experts, international organizations and civil society groups to build 21st-century solutions for governing emerging technologies, including drones, artificial intelligence and machine learning, blockchain, internet of things, robotics, precision medicine and autonomous vehicles, as well as innovations in environmental sustainability, smart cities, data policy and digital trade. Our teams are working hard to ensure that the world is fully prepared to master the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
If you’re interested in working with us on any of these technology domains, or simply would like to learn more, we want to hear from you!