The British Academy has recently announced the successful applicants under Knowledge Frontiers: International Interdisciplinary Research Projects 2017.

This programme will support nine interdisciplinary research projects geared towards producing policy-relevant findings and improving the welfare of people in developing countries. The projects aim to engage with questions concerning the relationship between expertise, public understanding and policy delivery, and highlight the importance of collaborative engagement between communities of practice, disciplines, capacities and borders.

Professor Ash Amin, Foreign Secretary and Vice-President of the British Academy, welcomed this new cohort of award holders and emphasised the pressing need for projects of interdisciplinary nature that “examine encounters between academic, professional and lay knowledge, and how valid knowledge, knowledge associations and evidence are built and developed, communicated and disseminated, and the factors which can serve as barriers to this in different political or cultural settings.”

Prof Simon Marvin, Urban Institute Director, is the PI for ‘Drones/Robotics and Development Priorities in Africa: Transformative Infrastructure or Digital Colonisation?’, with co-applicants Dr Nancy Odendaal, Associate Professor, University of Cape Town; Professor Tony Prescott, Director of Sheffield Robotics, University of Sheffield; Dr Mateja Kovacic, Research Associate, University of Sheffield; Dr Aidan While, Senior Lecturer & Urban Institute Co-Director, University of Sheffield

Abstract: Africa is emerging as a critical site for experimentation with drones in the creation of new infrastructural systems to support national developmental priorities. Drone service delivery can transform lives by compensating for inadequate or absent infrastructure but they are at an early stage of development and there are competing interests in drone development that mean the developmental potential may not be realised. Although they have attracted growing interest, the diverse options and experiments in African drone infrastructure have not been subject to wider research or societal scrutiny. The purpose of this project is to explore and analyse the following 2 questions: What are the opportunities and challenges in developing these new infrastructure networks? Where are new drone infrastructures being developed in Africa and what organisations are involved in experimental practices? What lessons might be learned for the future?