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Cuban SMEs take flight in drone

Disguised as a hawk and perfectly imitating its squawks, the electronic device takes flight and scares the birds from the airport to avoid accidents. It is the first startup SME in Cuba to create drones cheaper than those leased to foreign companies.

With a wingspan of 1.3 meters and a length of 65 cm, the device has an autonomy of one hour.

The difference with other artificial birds of its kind is that 80% of its components are made by hand, in rustic workshops that these entrepreneurs have at home, jumping the obstacles on this island under the United States embargo since 1962.

“We have been stubborn in maintaining our desire to solve challenges”, both aviation technicians and resources and legal, says to AFP Ernesto Aragón, 50, one of the members of Alasoluciones, who has five engineers and three technicians ” crazy “about airplanes and UAVs.

They operate between rice and garlic fields, in San Nicolás de Bari, a town of 20,000 inhabitants, 70 km southeast of Havana.

– Peugeot cabin and Toyota engine –

They began in 2017 in the garage of Ernesto’s house, where they keep the chocolate-colored 1958 Ford Fairlane that seems to live a second youth (this time with a Peugeot cabin and a Toyota engine), since it serves as transport, office or workshop when they fly the drone.

Over time, these creators managed to make flying devices for agricultural services, in the inspection of gas lines, electrical and communication towers, among other fields.

Currently, they have a falconry project to scare away birds at the Camagüey airport, stopped by the pandemic.

His first achievement was “to develop a system that would pass it [el dron] manually to fully autonomous, from takeoff to landing, “recalls Aragón.

– SMEs “at the door” –

But there things got stuck. Their legal status as a self-employed (private) did not allow them to advance in a socialist country where private companies do not yet exist.

The government authorized individual private work in more than 2,000 activities in February, a measure long awaited by people who work independently.

“Regulations have been drawn up that will allow proposals to be made to, once approved, start now” with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said before the recently concluded congress of the Communist Party (only).

Trying to overcome bureaucratic barriers, in 2020 it opened the first science and technology industrial park -which functions as a state trading company- promoted by the president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who tries to stimulate technological development.

Entrepreneurs “have solutions that can substitute imports,” a major headache for the Cuban economy, which buys 80% of what it consumes, the park’s president, Rafael Torralbas, told local television.

The CEO of the group, Erick Carmona, 35, believes that “the park has many benefits”: it is an “entity designed to create SMEs, technology-based companies”, so that when “the SME law comes out, we are in the door practically “to turn the company into one of them.

The park gave them initial financing and facilitates imports and possible exports, also offers advantages such as exemption from taxes and import duties for five years.

– “Recyclable materials” –

In their workshop in the park they now work on the electronics of the drones and the optics of the cameras to “avoid dust and dirt, [que] don’t fall for these components, “says Carmona.

Deyvi Pastrana is a man of 50 years and few words, but with great manual skills.

In the backyard of his house he has a makeshift workshop where he manufactures the chassis of the device, made of wood, fiberglass or resin.

A plastic water knob – a “very light material” – served for the cover.

It’s “an example of using recyclable materials,” he says, showing the wooden mold that he shaped the piece with with a heat gun.

In an abandoned airport on the outskirts of San Nicolás, the hawk-drone makes its final test.

It is the same air terminal from which former agent René González took off in 1990 on a Cuban plane to infiltrate the United States, a story recreated in the film “Red Avispa” (2019) by Frenchman Olivier Assayas and available on Netflix.

“They are venturing into an activity that has great potential for the economy of any country,” says González, who has become president of the island’s Aviation Club, who predicts success even outside of Cuba.


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