On Saturday, March 9th, 2019, during the Gubernatorial and State houses of Assembly elections, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) tweeted a picture of a drone it had utilized to monitor election activity in Benin, Edo state.
#Polls EFCC drone on surveillance in Benin, Edo State. #SayNoToVoteBuyingpic.twitter.com/pHdJ4tQ9Or
— EFCC Nigeria (@officialEFCC) March 9, 2019
This was part of the Government agency’s strategy to combat vote-buying. The drone was used in the Oba Market polling unit in Benin.
Reactions, however, were not positive. A Twitter user by the name of Mohammed Ali, whose bio describes him as a Software developer and hardware builder, faulted the type of drone used by the EFCC to carry out its surveillance exercise. The model used is the Spark by Chinese drone manufacturer DJI.
Another response from another Twitter user expressed the same sentiment
OMG .. that is very unprofessional esp for a govt anti graft agency to use DJI Spark for surveillance.
It is a selfie-drone.
More or less for personal use or photography but not for espionage or crime detection.
Get one the drones meant for the JOB.
EFCC is not a joke !!!
— Mohammed Ali (@ilmanati) March 9, 2019
I laughed when I saw the drone they were bragging about. The government can do better.
This is a selfie drone & can’t stay airborne more than 40mins (I own a Phantom 3 Pro, so I know)
Limited range for surveillance as well.
We will like to know the budget for this equipment.
— PH Resident Visitor (@iamVOE) March 9, 2019
About the DJI Spark Drone
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Released in June 2017, DJI’s Spark is a palm-sized drone meant for amateur drone users who intend to take simple photographs and shoot short videos.
It costs $500 (N180,000 at N360/$) for a basic package while optional add-ons like an additional battery, remote control, and other extras can increase its retail price to $700 (N252,000). Pre-owned models can be found on Amazon and other online retailers.
The biggest drawback of the Spark is its short flight time. Battery life is just 16 minutes which limits its ability to be used for an assignment like election monitoring which can take hours. Extra batteries can be on standby but the time it would take to continuously land the drone and swap the batteries every 16 minutes would hamper productivity and risk missing illegal activities happening in real time.
Another drone option suggested by Twitter user Mohammed Ali is the Perimeter drone from US drone manufacturer Skyfront.
Located in Menlo Park, California, Skyfront is an aerospace startup that designs and manufactures long-endurance, autonomous aircraft for the Agriculture, Energy, and Utilities industries.
In 2017, Skyfront’s first product, the Tailwind, set a record for flight time for drones of 4 hours 34 minutes. The Tailwind is a long-endurance hybrid gasoline-electric drone.
Skyfront’s technology enables commercial drone applications like package delivery, search and rescue missions, precision agriculture on large farms, and infrastructure inspection.
The company is backed by Techstars and Qualcomm Ventures and is a recent graduate of the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator.
What will it cost?
Skyfront has not released a price for the Perimeter drone but interested buyers can request a quote from their website.
If the Nigerian government is serious about monitoring elections to reduce vote buying and ballot box snatching, it will need to invest in drones that can fly for hours. Technology is increasingly making this a possibility for future elections.