Wits students design drone that can be used for Covid-19 screening
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Johannesburg - Growing up in Soweto, Wits University student Xolani Radebe had no idea that he would one day design a drone with his business partners that could be used for Covid-19 screening.
Rabebe, 21, from Jabulani, started a company, called Rita Sibanyoni Aviation (RS Aviation), with his business partners and fellow students Tino Kurimwi, Bradley Mamanyoha, Varsty Mauku, Siphesihle Gamede and Neel Moraba last year.
The company, which aims to change the aviation game, has designed a drone that can be used for Covid-19 screening, complex security, search and rescue and fire-fighting.
The aeronautical engineering student told The Star on Wednesday that when he was growing up he did not have any plans to venture into the aviation industry until he attended the Africa Aerospace and Defence expo in 2018.
The event comprises both a trade exhibition and an air show.
“It was at the expo when I came across different career paths within aviation and I decided to choose between becoming a pilot or doing aeronautical engineering, because South African universities don’t offer aerospace engineering,” he said.
The third-year student said since he discovered his passion for aviation, he had striven to become a significant player in the industry while a student - instead of waiting to complete his studies.
“I try to learn a skill and I apply the skill using the knowledge that I accrued in class.
“I’m trying to make better by doing something more than just going to class,” he said.
RS Aviation started designing the drone last year.
However, when the pandemic started, the partners came together and made modifications to help fight the virus.
“It’s a modification to an already existing drone. However, this one is figured with a thermal camera that can screen people from the air.
“So it’s mostly ideal for screening people in shopping centres, schools and any place where a lot of people have gathered,” he said.
Radebe said that because the drone had a thermal camera, it could detect a person with a raised body temperature in a large crowd.
“For instance, people haven’t really been staying at home, so instead of screening every single person who walks around Braamfontein, for example, the drone will fly around.
“Every time it senses people who might have the virus and above average body temperature, it alerts the drone operator or person watching the screen about their exact location,” he said.
Radebe said the company’s biggest challenge was funding. “The thermal camera is very expensive; it costs around R5000 and the components to build the drone are also expensive.
“A drone in its entirety can cost about R16000 to R18000 - and that’s just one drone,” he said.
Radebe added that the company had been mentored by Wits University’s Transnet Matlafato Centre to help expand its laboratory space.
The centre helps aspiring entrepreneurs and SMMEs explore and test their products before accessing the market.