The Evolution of a Drone Project Idea into Reality.

Francis
4 min readMar 31, 2023

By Francis Mutalemwa

Flight test of pixhawk 2.4.8 autopilot using mission planner software.

There is a need for this fire response drone because putting out fires quickly is difficult everywhere, but it’s especially difficult in less developed countries, and firefighters face additional difficulties in the field, like ensuring their own safety and dealing with traffic. Should this, however, continue to be a problem in the contemporary world, where technology and inventiveness have advanced so much?

I have designed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that will reduce risks in situations where sending a human-piloted aircraft would be either unacceptable or impractical/expensive. The UAV will extinguish a fire in an inventive and creative way by designing a mechanism that will release a fire-extinguishing grenade in the desired location, burst immediately after 2–3 seconds, and cover a 10 x 10 square meter area. As drones can cover larger areas than ground teams, they will also aid in search and rescue operations by locating firefighters and injured people inside of buildings.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on fire baseline In Tanzania, 11 million hectares on average (between 8.5 and 12.9 million hectares) burn annually. This corresponds to between nine and 14 % of Tanzania´s land area. The majority of burned areas are documented between May and October, with the highest fire activity occurring in July and August. Throughout the year, multiple fires were detected. Since November 2000, satellites have detected over 900,000 fires in Tanzania, with the number of fires per year in Tanzania remaining relatively constant.

Since childhood, making art and interacting with devices (toys) have been part of my daily routine. My big brother and I once broke and destroyed father’s radio in order to see those people who always talk, and we ended up seeing cables and wires inside; it was the best scene of our lives. This attitude stayed with me until college, when I decided to study computer science and engineering in order to interact with them in a more advanced digital manner.

While earning my Computer Science and Engineering diploma from St. Joseph College of Engineering and Technology in 2021, I developed a keen interest in drone technology, and the thought of making a locally-made drone immediately sprang to mind. And that’s when I had the idea to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to combat fires in Tanzania.

Our team’s final year projects required the design and construction of an autonomous UAV. In fact, I was so dedicated to the task at hand that I hoped to wrap it up as soon as possible so that I could see the final product: a quadcopter with a wood frame that flew unsteadily due to the use of insensitive controls.

My first life wood frame at the university with Arduino UNO as an autopilot.

I didn’t give up because failure is a part of the process; I searched all over Dar es salaam for drone manufacturers to ask for help, and eventually found OpenMap Development Tanzania through a friend. This company specializes in drone innovation, so I knew it was the right place for me to build a drone, and I vowed to see my project through to fruition. My goal was to build and fly a steady drone, and thanks to the help of OpenSkies fellows’ team, I was able to learn how to use a basic KK2 flight controller and accomplish my goal. I spent a lot of time practicing with the KK2 flight controller drone, which helped me become an expert and confident at flying drones because it is very manually controlled.

At OpenMap Development Tanzania’s Inno Tech Lab, I built my first prototype of the fire extinguishing drone, as shown in the photo below.

My first prototype of the fire extinguishing drone at OMDTZ

It took me several months to finish both the dropping mechanism and the drone because I had to learn so much about each component, particularly the flight controllers, and flying practice was a difficult task.

It was an honor to be selected for OpenSkies’ second fellowship program in February 2022, which supports young innovators. I was provided with financial assistance and a mentor who instructed me on advanced flight controllers.

Once I had a working prototype, I upgraded to more sophisticated flight controllers like the Pixhawk 2.4.8, Cube Black, and Cube Orange. This required me to pick up a few new skills, the most important of which is using mission planner software as a ground station during flight tests.

Compass and Accelerometer Calibration

Recently, I’ve been working on developing a high-tech UAV with the added capability of carrying or transporting a small amount of weight (elide ball) that can be used to extinguish fires in targeted areas.

The project includes design, development, analysis, testing, and evaluation, making it an extremely valuable teaching tool that introduces students to cutting-edge technology and its application to realistic national-interest projects.

Fire extinguishing drone

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Francis

I’m a tech-savvy individual with a passion for both computer science and drones. I use my knowledge and skills to create innovative solutions.