Sickened by the increasing number of farm attacks and wanting to give farmers an early warning system sparked an award-winning business idea in drone technology. And so, the idea for BlomSkok Technologies, the brainchild of final year Mechanical Engineering Masters student at the North-West University, was born.
Mr Tinus Potgieter (above) won R20 000 in the first contested category of Innovative Business Ideas at the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2021 that was held at Premier Hotel on the East Rand last Friday.
Eighteen of South Africa’s 26 public universities participated in the competition with record 4168 entries, which dropped to 150 at regional level, leaving 28 finalists. Potgieter was the only male winner among five women in the other categories which represented Existing Businesses: General, Social Impact and Technological.
Growing up in Kempton Park, within hearing distance of the OR Tambo International Airport, Potgieter says he has always had a love of planes. In fact, his Mechanical Engineering degree focuses on aerodynamics. Aviation is in his blood. He says the idea for his innovation lit up early in 2021. It centred around coming up with a security solution for vulnerable farmers.
“The number of farm attacks in South Africa is incredibly high and is set to rise. I want to provide an autonomous solution to increase the reaction time for farmers when intruders enter their property.”
His interest in UAV technology led him to the use of drones to provide the solution to the farmers problem. He refined the idea as he prepared for the EDHE competition and spoke to potential customers.
This is how he conceptualised this idea:
- A controlled area will be covered by sensors which will be able to detect intruders entering the area.
- Once the sensor is triggered, the drones on the property automatically take off in the direction of the sensor to investigate.
- On-board artificial intelligence using object detection and tracking, identifies the nature of the disturbance – a natural cause or intruders.
- In the case of intruders, the drone automatically alerts all parties including a security company to which the system will be linked.
- The drone provides a live visual feed of the situation throughout.
Potgieter said his primary target market would be agricultural or game farmers.
“The system could, however, easily be adapted to patrol any large, difficult to navigate area such as wildlife reserves to protect our rhino, industrial plants or mining complexes.”
He said as a child, he was fascinated with aircraft. It therefore followed that as drone technology became more accessible to citizens and not limited to the military, his interest in designing, building, and improving his own drones grew. He explained that so far, BlomSkok Technologies is only an idea that he hopes to turn into a viable business.
“The R20 000 prize money that I received will be used to develop the proof of concept to do research on the interactions between all the various aspects of the system. I will definitely start approaching partners or investors as the proof-of-concept phase draws to a close and all the major issues have been ironed out,” he said.
Potgieter’s idea, at present, is to sell or to lease out the system to customers with a subscription fee to cover operation, maintenance and repair costs of the system.
He acknowledges that this model might have to be adapted once the business is a reality.
For now, he estimates that the proof of concept will cost around R100000 – including the electronics and materials required to build the drones, ground stations, sensors etc. Getting a drone pilot’s licences is also included in this amount.
He says that his unique system will provide a ‘proactive and autonomous solution’ and be different from current systems that rely on being in the right place at the right time to be effective.
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa