An Interview with Uttam Puadasaini, Lab Coordinator for Nepal Flying Labs
BY Alan Perlman7 March 2017
A little while back we had the pleasure of meeting Uttam Puadasaini, lab coordinator for Nepal Flying Labs, the Nepal representative for WeRobotics, and a geomatics engineering graduate from Kathmandu University.
Through his work with Nepal Flying Labs, Uttam has been flying and coordinating UAV missions in Nepal, and he has also been a general booster in the area for commercial drone use. We’ve been fascinated to learn more about Uttam’s work with the Nepalese aviation authority in getting drones accepted for commercial use, and we wanted to ask him more questions about his background and experience with drones. These conversations are what led to the interview below.
About Nepal Flying Labs
Nepal Flying Labs (NFL) is a Nepalese-based NGO that is part of the global WeRobotics network. It was created in the wake of the Gorkha Earthquake in the fall of 2015, which devastated the country of Nepal, destroying ancient monuments and killing over 8,000 people. Among other things, Nepal Flying Labs provides training for how to use UAVs to support disaster risk reduction and assist with early recovery efforts following disasters. Nepal Flying Labs is based in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, and the work they do involves both community engagement and training in the use of UAVs, as well as professional-level aerial videography, surveying, and mapping to help with disaster relief. Nepal Flying Labs has partnered with DJI for hardware and Pix4D for editing software.
Watch the video below to learn more about the work done following the Gorkha Earthquake in a collaborative project involving DJI, Pix4D, UAViators, Kathmandu Living Labs, and Smartisan at Kathmandu University to map crisis situations in real time.
About Uttam Puadasaini
Uttam Puadasaini is the lab coordinator for Nepal Flying Labs, the Nepal representative for WeRobotics, and a geomatics engineering graduate from Kathmandu University.
About his work with drones, Uttam wrote us recently:
For a UAV enthusiast like me, being the coordinator of Nepal Flying Labs (NFL) is an amazing opportunity as it provides me with all of the necessary resources (hardware and software) required to deploy drone technology and expand its use in Nepal (and beyond!). Through NFL I hope to promote the use of UAVs in a variety of civil applications, such as high resolution mapping, precision agriculture, conservation, transportation of medical supplies, support for environmental research, and other projects.
UAV Coach: How did you first get involved with the drone industry?
Uttam Puadasaini: My journey in drones began while I was doing an undergraduate project in my final year study at Kathmandu University. Back in 2014, my project team did a first academic study with drone images in Nepal titled “Generation of High Resolution DSM using UAV images.” This is how I first started working on drones.
UAV Coach: We know you studied Geomatics Engineering in school. Can you tell us more about what this is, and how it applies to your work with drones?
Uttam Puadasaini: Geomatics Engineering (GE) is an Engineering discipline that focuses on the acquisition, processing analysis, and management of spatial information. I studied Geomatics Engineering at Kathmandu University, Dhulikhel, Nepal in 2014. GE emphasizes the use of the latest technologies for the collection, management, and analysis of spatial data. A Geomatics Engineer operates different kinds of technology and collects geospatial information of the land, including both the natural and artificial resources around us. Drones are incredibly useful tools for acquiring high resolution spatial information, which can then be used for several purposes.
UAV Coach: Describe what Nepal Flying Labs does in one sentence.
Uttam Puadasaini: We are focused on creating a future where local communities can use robotics for social good.
UAV Coach: Can you tell us more about Nepal Flying Labs (NFL)? What kind of work you do, where do you do it, and who do you generally work with?
Uttam Puadasaini: NFL is a robotics innovation lab based in Nepal that solves challenges using appropriate robotics & Al technologies. It is a part of the global WeRobotics network.
We create data products and services for local organizations, NGOs, and INGOs using UAV-captured information, and provide training on UAVs, GIS, and other aerial and marine robotics technologies. As a non-profit organization, we always ensure that the projects we take on directly benefit human life and the physical, natural environment around us. As we help develop local drone-based service providers, we also help create local demand by working together with local, national, and international teams in conducting robotics-related projects in Nepal.
NFL is trying to grow into a drone expert center in the country, with the goal of developing local capacity in delivering drone-based services by providing training, equipment, and processing expertise to local businesses and new service providers. Our expertise and equipment comes from the strong technical partnerships that WeRobotics has created with the world’s biggest drone and GIS software companies, including Parrot group (senseFly and Pix4D), DJI, and ESRI.
We have both fixed wing and rotor wing drones and also all the software required to process the images we capture. As a non-profit organization, however, we must ensure that the projects we take on directly benefit human life and the environment in which people live.
UAV Coach: What separates you from other companies in your space?
Uttam Puadasaini: Whenever there is a demand for new technology we focus on building local capacity and expertise rather than bringing experts from elsewhere in the world. Creating local expertise helps a country to make the most out of robotics technology, and grow from the inside. Also, we are organizing a “drones as service” business incubation program to create a drone-related service business in Nepal. We are helping interested local groups build their capacity to develop their own self-sustainable drone services company.
UAV Coach: What does the regulatory scene look like for flying UAVs in Nepal? Is it hard to get started?
Uttam Puadasaini: The Nepal [Gorkha] Earthquake in 2015 was a huge tragedy all over the country. Nearly 3 million people have been displaced. As a result, over 8,000 people died and more than 20,000 people were injured. Assessments show that around 500,000 private houses were destroyed and another 250,000 were partially damaged. 14 out of 75 districts in the country were declared as the ‘most affected’ districts in terms of damage level and total losses.
Prior to the earthquake in 2015 there were no official regulations for drone flights in Nepal. Immediately following the earthquake, only a few organizations started using drones for immediate damage assessment and post disaster mapping. There were many foreign volunteers and organizations coming to Nepal to support the country in this time of tragedy, and some of them were using drones to take the footage of the damage. This was an efficient way of capturing the real scenario on the ground. However, a few of those groups of people also flew their drones over restricted areas, like world heritage sites and even police and army barracks. As a result, the government of Nepal suddenly started viewing drone regulation as a sensitive issue, and quickly released strict drone flight directives.
Nowadays, anyone who wants to fly a drone in Nepal has to get permissions from civil aviation, and a few different ministries and departments. It’s not an easy procedures these days.
UAV Coach: Do you anticipate expanding operations of NFL (or WeRobotics) beyond Nepal?
Uttam Puadasaini: WeRobotics already works in different countries through local flying labs and NFL is one such flying lab, mainly focused to work in Nepal. However, the lessons learned at NFL can be applied elsewhere in the world. We hope that, through different kinds of projects in the mixed topography country of Nepal (high mountains, hills and flat plain regions), we can become a leading center of expertise in the unique skills required to map highly-mountainous terrains with drones, so that we can implement the things we learn over similar terrains elsewhere in the world. Also, the experience doing a number of humanitarian projects in a disaster-affected community will be a good lesson to all other humanitarian practices who want to use this technology in post-disaster scenarios.
UAV Coach: What do you love about drones?
Uttam Puadasaini: What I really like about drones is they are an easily/quickly deployable technology and can be quickly launched into the air within minutes.
My first official drone project was a research project at Kathmandu University led by Dr. Rojan Kayastha where I flew drones to capture high resolution images of a glacier at 4000m altitude for glacial change study.
After that, I participated in a training that happened in September, 2015 at Kathmandu University. I was very excited to be a part of this training for “the use of drones to assist with critical functions for disaster preparedness and response,” which was a joint effort of Patrick Meier, founder of the UAViators Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators.org), faculty from Kathmandu University, Kathmandu Living Labs, DJI, and Pix4D. Recalling back, I remember Randy Braun from DJI saying that “this technology might completely change someone’s career,” which is exactly what happened to me. This training became the turning point in my professional life and the start of my drone career. This was the first time I learned how to fly a drone, and it was even the first time I saw a commercial quadcopter in real life.
Here are some 3D maps created for the village of Panga, as part of the collaborative project Uttam talks about here (this is the same project featured in the DJI-produced video above, in the “About Nepal Flying Labs” section of this article):
UAV Coach: What drone(s) do you fly?
Uttam Puadasaini: I fly both fixed wing and rotor wing drones depending upon the project objective(s). I usually work with the following hardware:
- DJI Phantom 4 Pro: Rotor Wing
- Sensefly eBee : Fixed Wing
- Sensefly eBee+ : Fixed Wing
- Parrot Bebop 2
UAV Coach: What are your predictions for the drone industry? Please feel free to answer at length (what you see way down the road, what you see for next year, where you see regulations headed in the U.S and abroad, new applications, etc. ).
Uttam Puadasaini: The last few years have been amazing for drone industry. Here are some of my predictions:
For Next Year
- With the increase in the usage of drones, drone software as well as hardware companies will become more competitive industries.This might also lead to the reduction of prices for drones and related software—with increased competition.
- As people, institutions, and organizations in many countries are using drone technology for positive and life-saving uses, people will have more open minds about the technology in coming years.
- Cargo delivery using drones, especially the delivery of urgent medical supplies in rural places far from city areas.
- Drones will be used more and more for agriculture, surveying, and mapping, among other commercial applications.
- Drone journalism is also significantly increasing and a lot of media agencies, even in developing countries, are adopting the use of UAVs for their efforts.
Below are some more images Uttam sent us to share his work with UAVs in Nepal. Enjoy!