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Cameroon startup launches drones for global market

DOUALA: Talking fast and dreaming big, William Elong shows off the first “made in Cameroon” drone at his sixth-floor workshop in downtown Douala, minutes from the economic capital’s Atlantic seafront.

The 25-year-old, known as a high-flyer after being named one of Forbes’ most promising young Africans under 30, is enthusing about his new unmanned aerial drones and keen to promote his company and Africa as a place where IT and new tech can flourish.

We must “get out of the Afro-centric vision of business” to “understand that when one has a global vision, worldwide, this includes Africa,” Elong said in a discussion of future technologies.

Elong has no degree in IT or robotics but studied strategy and competitive intelligence in France, becoming the youngest-ever graduate from Paris’ Economic Warfare School.

He founded his startup Will & Brothers in 2015 with a main project called Drone Africa, which aims to provide drones for civil purposes to businesses, the state in Cameroon and elsewhere.

With a top range of up to 20 kilometers, the drones can be used for purposes as different as cartography, media coverage, support for agriculture and detecting gas in mines to reduce the risk of accidents.

“The know-how is here, in Cameroon,” said Elong, who is aware young African talent often seeks employment in Europe and elsewhere. He said at this stage his firm’s capital of $200,000 has come from Western backers.

Also supported by the government of President Paul Biya, Elong hopes eventually to raise $2 million to expand the business but he regrets that “not many Africans are involved” in the project, which features two airborne types of drone and one terrestrial model.

The commercial market in Africa is expanding with unmanned aircraft already whizzing across the skies delivering items like medicine and food, and even helping farmers sow seeds.

In Rwanda, drones get medical supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas. Tanzania is launching a similar program. And drones equipped with night-vision cameras help to detect and track poachers in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Elong presents the two airborne prototype models on a table inside his assembly shop. The first “flying wing that we’ve baptized Algo” has the furthest range and could prove an economical solution to the costly task of making maps, he suggests.

The second type, known as Logarythm, has four arms forming a propeller, can reach an altitude of up to 500 meters and is fitted with high-definition cameras, which would be useful in high-risk zones and for precision work, Elong adds.

Crucially, he argues, manufacturing costs are lower than those of foreign manufacturers, so the drones produced will be priced competitively across the African marketplace.

He envisages “selling drones to Vietnam, to Venezuela, to Denmark for example, and becoming one of the biggest global enterprises in this sector.”

Elsewhere, two young engineers in white lab coats are carefully building a prototype. “When all the components are available, we are able to assemble a drone like this in 24 hours,” said engineer Louis Ekani.

Some of the parts are made in Cameroon, while others are supplied from abroad.

“The start was extremely complicated,” said young technical director Yves Tamu, who is described on the company website as an entrepreneur, digital champion and inventor. “But we have a dynamic, autonomous and state-of-the-art team thanks to which we found the solution (to assembling drones).”

The average age of employees is barely 22 and the team comprises mainly engineers and developers who have spent two years building airworthy drones.

“Will & Brothers is the pride of Cameroon,” gushed Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Libom Li Likeng at a government ceremony to present the drones in early February.

Their design demonstrates “the innovative capacity of Cameroonian youth”, she added.

Elong’s firm is represented in Ivory Coast and plans to open offices in France and the United States, but he stresses the development of artificial intelligence is his primary goal.

Will & Brothers has worked on an AI known as Cyclops, which enables drones to detect people, objects and vehicles and to identify different types of animal at specific sites.

“Artificial intelligence is the future of humanity,” Elong said, confident that Africa can at least try to compete with the big tech giants in California. “It knocks me out that so many people here take no interest in technology.”

© 2018 AFP

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  2. Thanks, the first assignment for these drones is to ascertain the amount of filth that has been reported at the Douala airport and also shine its cameras on people like your uncle Niat and his colleagues like Nfon Mukete, Tchiroma. We need to know why these enemies of the country are still working at their age, while you have been an economic immigrant in Ireland for one and a half decade now.

    • FF.

      Wow, you’ve included an Anglo?

      This is the first time that you seem to be objective (condemning both Anglo and Franco), I agree with you that age is prob in CMR. I hope this is the last time that I agree with you tho…

      • What can I not expect from you on this forum? Today, you would show your nostalgia about the “ good stuff” I used to write. Tomorrow you would say i’m An intellectual lightweight. When I said Muma is a product of the system, you foamed in the mouth endlessly. Muna is not an anglophone! When I told you Balla could not be harping about federation while Biya is swearing there won’t be discussion about the form of state, you barked and barked. When I said Osih could not pretend to achieve what he and his boss couldn’t achieve with Elecam, you were more interested about Fru Ndi being my master. All of these guys are Anglophones. As you continue to beat up yourself, pretending to fight me, I will keep scoring home runs against you. This is just one of them. You have been disproved once again!

      • Hahahaha,

        Muna and co. are all on your blacklist. I am talking about objectivity concerning Anglos that are not yet on your list.

        Is there perhaps, per chance, any difference in Mandarin between appreciating a language style and agreeing to a line of thought?

        How can a person fighting you appreciate something coming from you?

        Boxing is fighting (not in your sense tho), but boxers still embrace each other at the end of most fights. I keep on wondering why it is so tho.

        Perhaps fair-play?…

  3. @Firefighter

    why are you care we will fixing our ” filth ” . I HOPE you can checking your neigboor nigeria too

  4. Mail delivery service needs a boost. Fantastic ! With a new minister of Decentralization and local management to improve and name the streets and number the houses, 2035 looks tantalizingly attractive.

  5. @John Dinga

    you can be the judge “tantalizingly”. we will improve enemy of progress .

  6. Well the goverment can be their number one customer of a side service which provides clear photos of where the water source originates to flood roads (to markets) all over Cameroon without getting bogged down with neverending servays and calculations.
    They can be rented out so the company can keep up the maintance and technology to build up a good name to carry on providing this service to other African countries .
    Then local goverments can organise communal digging to divert where its easy, the water to bypass the roads .if the local population isnt enough the army can dig.Roads, even dirt tracks last alot longer then .
    Out of the rainy season they can be used for other services.
    European countries are saturated with these products and pricing is less relevent .

  7. People here are complaining about President Paul Biya and his cronies. Rightly so.

    You can do more and get even bigger impact by using social media and making our voiced and concerns heard across the globe. You can use:
    – Twitter.
    – Instagram.
    – Facebook.

    Twitter will spread the word faster. Copy key placers and decision makers across the world. Here are some twitter information:
    – Paul Biya: @PR_Paul_Biya
    – Issa Tchiroms: @ITBMINCOM
    – President Emmanue Macron: @EmmanuelMacron
    – French President’s office: @Elysee
    – British Prime Minister: @theresa_May
    – British PM office: @10DowningStreet
    – UN Secretary General: @AntonioGuterres
    – International Criminal Court: @IntlCrimCourt
    – Commonwealth Secretariat: @CommonwealthSec
    – Member pf UK Parliament who visited Cameroon: @hbaldwin

  8. Great achievement for Cameroon… \ Before getting your drones sold in the global market ensure that clean water and electricity can be supplied uninterruptedly for at least 12 hours a day in your villages, towns and cities. Most countries if not all that are selling drones in the global market can at least provide clean water and electricity to their citizens uninterruptedly at least for days.

    • [email protected] your comment brings to mind it could be good to include solar rechargable battery packs and its panel for rural observations, when using the machines but im wondering around in the dark here when it comes to technolagy.