By Kevin and Sophia Soli, Papua New Guinea Flying Labs
We at Papua New Guinea Flying Labs are happy to share some highlights of our first year in operation with the WeRobotics global community, Flying Labs network, and the broader community. Working with technology partners, professionals in various industries and policymakers in government has helped us identify our strengths and areas for improvements. This has paved the way for strategic partnerships and community support to harness inclusive opportunities and embrace drones and STEM education in Papua New Guinea.
“It is not sufficient to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflection on this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost” – Graham Gibbs, 1988
The launching of Papua New Guinea Flying Labs in early 2019 has sparked the drive of the problem-solver in us! We had navigated through roadblocks to 2020, pivoted when a plan didn’t work and revisited our drawing board periodically when we got stuck. And so we reflect on our experiences, how far we have come, and some of what we’ve learned.
Here are three events that have most impacted us:
1. Launching in Papua New Guinea to Drone Training in Fiji
We proudly launched Papua New Guinea Flying Labs in February 2019 during our first co-organized medical cargo drone workshop and demo in Port Moresby. We officially received our Flying Labs license in April. We were so thrilled to join Pacific Flying Labs in Fiji. This regional network gave us the exposure to represent Papua New Guinea at a Robotics Conference in May in Suva, Fiji. Our Fijian colleagues trained us on how to fly a fixed-wing drone (eBee). They showed us a repurposed DJI Matrice 600 drone mounted with a mosquito releasing mechanism for a public health intervention. Following the conference, we were farewelled with two new DJI quadcopters giving birth to our drone fleet for aerial surveys and mapping.
Reaching the unreached using cargo drone technology is our ultimate goal to connect essential services to our rural majority.
“Inspired by the work of Doctors without Borders, who in 2014 used drones to deliver medication in Gulf Province, Sophia and Kevin founded Soli Consultancy to use unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver solutions to remote locations in PNG” – Business Advantage PNG, 2020.
2. Celebrating U.S. Fourth of July to PNG’s First Drone Safety Workshop
“I’m more than grateful for the U.S. for giving my wife the opportunity to fly from Papua New Guinea to study at Michigan State University followed by an internship at NASA Ames Research Center as a Humphrey Fellow (2017-2018). She was even empowered to be on her first flight on a Cessna single engine flying over Facebook HQ in Silicon Valley. Happy Independence–Happy 4th of July” – LinkedIn post on July 4, 2020
As U.S. Humphrey Fellow (2017-2018), Sophia was the guest speaker at the U.S. Embassy Port Moresby’s 4th of July celebration. The theme was SPACE: The Next Frontier, which coincided with the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. moon landing. Sophia shared her experiences at NASA Ames Research Center and the mission of Papua New Guinea Flying Labs.
Following the successful launch of Papua New Guinea Flying Labs, we met Sir Mick Nades, Founder and Chairman of IBSUniversity in Port Moresby on the U.S. Independence Day. With 30+ years of passionate commitment and hard work, Sir Nades established IBSUniversity. We co-hosted our first drone safety workshop with IBSUniversity in September 2019 with the honor of having the Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Honorable Davis Stevens as our Keynote Speaker while Captain Tom Waqa, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of Papua New Guinea Civil Aviation Safety Authority as our Chief Guest.
“Congratulations on the very successful Drone Workshop. The endorsement of government through the support of the Deputy Prime Minister was a major achievement.” – Captain Tom Waqa
The month of July was full of hope. On July 4, 2020, one of our partners, CPL Foundation, presented us with two laptops and apparel for our Coding and Droning Afterschool Program. This was a boost for our’ Coding Against COVID-19′ education and wellbeing classes during a time of economic uncertainty.
3. Implementing STEM Education Policy 2020 to Bridging the Digital Divide
In March 2020, we unveiled a plaque using a drone at the official opening of the IBSUniversity Center of Excellence. Kevin even took a ‘selfie’ with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Honorable James Marape, to commemorate the opening. Then on June 15, the Prime Minister launched the STEM Education Policy to bridge the digital divide to change end-users of technology to creators of technology to solve everyday problems and drive the economy. We are excited to join forces with our local STEM educators to implement the STEM policy in the country successfully.
Since 2019, we have engaged with IBSUniversity, Pacific Adventist University, Sogeri National High School, University of Papua New Guinea, Koroboro International School, Port Moresby International School, and Kopkop College to promote drones for development including STEM initiatives. We are exploring opportunities to increase our coverage within our existing network going into 2021.
Taking the first step is hard, but we are glad we did. There is so much more that goes on behind the scenes that keep us in motion with our mission. We acknowledge WeRobotics for four microgrant awards, one being the ‘Winner of the Flying Labs Competition for the Most Active and Successful Outreach’ during a global drone competition. As we embark on another year of operation, we are mindful of the ‘new normal’ and eager to harness the power of cloud technology.