Musa Kalenga.
JOHANNESBURG - A few months ago I did something that many fathers across the world have done at least once in their lives - I bought my son a kite. We assembled the kite together and we flew it.

I must admit, it was an amazing feeling for me to witness the look on his face as he watched the kite ascend into the sky and remain aloft as he controlled it with a simple piece of string. It was priceless.

For many years, kites have represented joy and excitement for curious children as they learn to understand the dynamics of physics in everyday play.

Nowadays, there is a mind-boggling array of kites available on the market, but growth is being driven by extreme sports industries that need highly specialised kites for more robust and industrial applications of quite an old technology.

You get anything from wind kites, stunt kites and even power kites, all with highly technical manuals to teach the user how to get the optimal benefit of the flying instrument.

The one notable thing about the kite industry is that aside from the manufacture of the actual kite and potential for its commercial use in sport, there is no wholesale impact on the future of the world that we live in. I would argue that kites will become more and more an exercise of leisure than anything else.

Yet despite the exhilaration, joy and excitement that kites bring, I believe they are under threat.

However, for my son's last birthday he received a really cool gift from his godfather, a drone, and we got to play with it for the first time this past weekend, which set me thinking.

In one of my keynotes I play a video that summarises an amazing project in Rwanda. The project is a partnership between the Rwandan government and Lockheed Martin, a US global aerospace, defence, security and advanced technologies company.

The key challenge they are trying to solve is the provision of critical medical supplies to remote parts of the country. Due to the topography of the country, getting to rural areas is really difficult and almost impossible during the rainy season.

The project uses basic SMS technology to allow doctors to place an order to a central system, that order is received by a warehouse that conducts pre-flight tests, stocks the drone and releases it to the location of the doctor.

While overhead, the drone releases the package and the doctor collects it - the drone flies back to the warehouse. A process that would ordinarily take hours, cut down to 15 minutes, with exponential impact on human life.

As the applications of drone technology become more mainstream and useful, the kite industry will be disrupted.

The name “drone” is a new, more accessible term for what began as an “unmanned aerial vehicle” or AUV.

This essentially means that the vehicle can either fly on its own or can be controlled from a remote location.

The first vehicles without a pilot were built during World War I. The earlier models, as in the case of the Rwanda project, were launched with a catapult and flown by radio control.

In 1918, the US army began using aerial torpedo drones and this model was called the Kettering Bug. Innovation with these AUVs continued during the inter-war period and the British also produced a number of radio controlled aircraft. It is said that this was the period that the term “drone” actually started being used, inspired by a number of the AUV models at the time.

The question I kept asking myself is how did drones go from war-time technology with quite a narrow application to a viable mainstream solution for delivering health supplies?

The answer is the diffusion of the innovation model.

In the early 1960s, Everett Rogers noticed that successful innovations follow a peculiar pattern. They don't catch on all at once, even if there is a clear benefit. Rather, a small group of enthusiasts try it first and then it spreads to those who are more reluctant.

The same has happened with drone technology, I believe, that although it has taken longer than many products, it has finally moved from innovators to the the early adopters. With this move comes the more commercial applications of the technology and a world of opportunities.

One company that was a late innovator, but really successful in the commercialisations of AUV’s, is probably the world’s largest drone manufacturer, DJI. China is usually a technology follower, but in the commercial drone industry it leads. DJI has its head office in Nanshan District, Shenzhen, and is pushing the boundaries of commercial drone development.

Its latest drone, the Phantom 4, can produce high definition video live-streamed on to a smartphone or tablet from up to 5km. And it is super easy.

The size of the market is $3billion (R35.3bn), of which DJI owns 70percent and is likely to grow to $27bn in the next five years.

In 10 years' time, drones will be incorporated into daily life - smaller, lighter and more useful applications. Drones will have sensors that dodge objects, battery life will be longer and the distances will increase. A random, but useful, use of drones is a group of whale researchers using drones to gather mucus by flying over whale pods and capturing the mucus as the whale blows. It is called “the snot bot”.

This information is important in assessing the health of the whale. So as you can imagine, the applications extend to search and rescue, crop maintenance from a blowing whale to analyse.

So, when my son launched his first solo drone flight last weekend, it was amazing to see the same look on his face of pure elation and joy, but it was decidedly different - the look was one of possibility and imagination.

The world that we are going into means that he can actually become a commercial drone pilot, or specialise in drone manufacture or define commercial legislation relating to drone delivery protocol.

And that is the reason that the kite industry has been disrupted and, simultaneously, the beauty of technology.

Musa Kalenga is chief executive and founder of Bridge Labs and an enthusiastic entrepreneur who is passionate about using technology to empower the digitally invisible.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT