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Local lad among final nine finalists in global drone competition


A Papua New Guinean is one of only nine (09) finalists in a global drone competition after his innovative idea was chosen from among nearly 1,000 worldwide entries.


When WeRobotics launched the Unusual Solutions Competition back in June 2019, they wanted to find innovators using drones and data to address their communities’ most pressing challenges. Participants did not have to be experts in drone technology or own a drone. But, they were required to be innovative in the use of drones and data and have an in-depth understanding of the communities they were proposing to help.


All finalists received a US $15,000 grant to turn their idea into a concept during the next four (04) months and prepare for the ‘Final Pitch’ event, to be held in early February in Panama City. At the pitch event, the best overall solution will win US $100,000, proudly sponsored, like the rest of the challenge, by the Omidyar Network.


McLaren Hoping, a young Papua New Guinean male who completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Geographic Information Science (GIS) under the Surveying & Land Studies department at the University of Technology in Lae in 2018, found out about the competition from school colleagues. After visiting the WeRobotics website and reviewing the three challenges, he felt confident in participating in the Last Data Mile challenge.


He was supported in his endeavour by Butibam Progress Incorporated – real estate firm of the Butibam people, the Hoping’s and Ahi’s of Butibam village, Lae and the Yaru’s in Sydney.


“Having submitted an idea that has been accepted and supported by experts from an international organization is an indication that any small innovation can have the potential to move mountains and make a real difference in the community.


“The only thing that matters is presenting it to the right people and at the right time,” McLaren said.


“This opportunity will allow me to turn an idea into a fully-fledged solution within four (04) months. It will become a prototype to be implemented in the Ward 2 of Ahi Rural LLG. With adequate support and funding, we could do the same for other wards in the LLG, other rural LLGs in the province, and other provinces in the country, in the future,” he added.


Ideas were required to address one of three challenges that included Drone Data & AI Tools, Last Data Mile and Drone & Data Ethics.


His winning idea is to map households, using drone imagery technology and GIS to describe the conditions of sanitation facilities with the aim of raising awareness on the issue of poor sanitation facilities in communities, in the hope that the Government will put more attention to address the issue, which had been neglected over many years.


WeRobotics was formed in December 2015 as a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to bringing developing countries access to robotics technology, and then to deploy it for social good projects within their communities.


WeRobotics co-creates and facilitates a network of local knowledge hubs in Africa, Asia and Latin America to build on existing expertise in drones, data and AI, known as Flying Labs. PNG Flying Labs was launched in February, 2019 in Port Moresby during the first cargo drone workshop for medical delivery.


The PNG Flying Labs is headed by local Coordinators, Sophia-Joy Soli and husband, Dr Kevin Soli, both of whom have remote flying licenses attained from US and Australia respectively. PNG Flying Labs recently held PNG’s first ever Drones Safety Workshop in conjunction with the IBS University at 11 Mile, Central Province. This was officially opened by Deputy Prime Minister Davis Steven. During his Keynote remarks DPM Davis encouraged PNG Flying Labs to organise more workshops aimed at schools to build local capacity and promote STEM. The workshop report can be downloaded here [http://bit.do/1st-png-drone-safety-workshop]


“We believe in local capacity building and to channel the opportunity to local communities where they can have access to technology and to leverage the skills that come with the technology to make a meaningful difference,” the Soli couple highlighted. They are proud of McLaren’s local initiative and looking forward to assisting him accomplishing his project deliverables.


McLaren strongly recommends drones for social challenges, particularly in geographically challenging PNG because ‘they are efficient when required to get the job done’.


He aims to be innovative in promoting the use of drones, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and its capabilities in addressing the many social issues affecting our local communities and to develop platforms that would facilitate their planning and decision making for a better living.