Keeping The Joy Of Learning Alive

"I would love to have more interaction at the community level, to learn from the folks there about their specific goals and needs and then design a product to achieve that."

Divya Budihal

Job title as of 2023: Robotics and Autonomy Software Engineer, Zipline

Why did you want to study engineering?

While growing up in Calgary, I travelled to India regularly to visit my extended family where I witnessed the intense income disparity in that country. As a young person, I was hopeful that some of those issues could be addressed through technological solutions. 

The goal of developing technology that could alleviate challenges in low-income communities was one of my main motivations for pursuing engineering.

Why did you choose UBC?

I received a significant scholarship to attend UBC! I also love the West Coast and was attracted to UBC’s more holistic focus on well-rounded students. I also appreciated that UBC had a general first-year engineering program as I wanted that extra time to decide which area of engineering I should focus on.

Foundation Year

Why did you choose Electrical and Computer Engineering?

I originally imagined pursuing chemical engineering. But I loved the general physics courses that I took in first year – they were so interesting, and they made me realize that the things I loved about chemistry actually had more to do with physics. I had joined the UBC Orbit Satellite Design team in first year to work on the CubeSat Project where I got very interested in programming. However, I ended up choosing Electrical Engineering because I wanted to develop an understanding of the hardware side of things. 

UBC Orbit  Electrical Engineering

What were some highlights of your undergraduate experience?

One of the projects you do in first-year engineering is to build a cardboard chair. Every single person on my team ended up going into a different specialization, which I think was our superpower! We won an award for best design and briefly considered whether we should launch our chair as a product. I became very close with one team member who also shared my passion for global development and we worked on a start-up idea together for a few years afterwards.

Cardboard Chair

Tell us more about your design team experience.

I was on the CubeSat team for three years, starting out on the computing team and then being named co-captain in third year. 

The work satisfied my desire to work on something impactful – the cube satellites were designed to detect emerging forest fires, among other applications. 

Design teams are fantastic learning environments because you are working on a real project, but it’s not all scoped out like what you experience in class. It requires a lot of grit to figure things out. Being co-captain was wonderful for building my leadership experience, and it also enabled me to become a really good systems engineer. I went to a design conference for the organization that hosts the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge and attended seminars on how to design a reliable space system. The work I did on the design team connects directly to my current job and is a critical part of my skill set.  

Design teams Canadian Satellite Design Challenge

What about your work experience?

I didn’t do co-op – instead I found my own work based on my clear sense of the kind of experience I wanted. This included working at SkyRyse, a startup based in the Bay Area that is developing autonomous helicopters. I got the job purely through cold calling and persistence! 

With this experience under my belt I then interned at Aurora, a Boeing subsidiary, that was doing similar things. This helped me gain the skills to land a position at Zipline, which had been a goal of mine for a few years. 

SkyRyse  Aurora

Why did you want to work for Zipline? And what do you do for them?

After seeing a TED talk on the company in 2018, I knew I wanted to work for Zipline, a company that uses drones to deliver medical products around the world.

The company brings together my two main passions: robots and global development. 

Zipline uses fixed-wing drones to deliver medical supplies in locations around the world, We operate in Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, the US and Japan and have completed over 800,000 deliveries to date. Each drone – or zip – can carry approximately three kilograms of payload, reaching speeds of 100 kilometres an hour and travelling up to 160 kilometres round trip. The drone flies autonomously to its delivery site and drops off a package using a paper parachute. The idea is that you can centralize supplies like blood, vaccines and essential medicines in a few locations and then efficiently deliver them on demand to remote areas. 

One of the main use cases is blood delivery. A common scenario in Rwanda might be that a woman in childbirth is hemorrhaging and needs a blood transfusion. You don’t have much time to get blood to her. Rwanda’s mountainous geography and road infrastructure can make it complicated to deliver by ground vehicle. Our drones can deliver the blood quickly and efficiently in many different weather conditions.

I am working on the code that runs the drone when it is flying, and I focus on the collision avoidance system that ensures that drones don’t collide with each other. It’s exciting work on getting drones to fly alongside each other, and the system is being certified in the US for the first time. We are trying to convince other companies to use this collision avoidance system as well 

Zipline  Zipline Fact Sheet

What kind of impact do you see yourself making as an engineer?

I am currently focused on the technical side, although I am fortunate to have some interactions on the customer impact side as well. 

I would love to have more interaction at the community level, to learn from the folks there about their specific goals and needs and then design a product to achieve that. As an engineer I have the background to come up with something feasible, and I’ve developed the skills to learn how to make processes safe and how to scale up solutions to have a large-scale impact. 

Any advice for students in first few years of an engineering program?

Do whatever exploration you need to keep your joy of learning alive and to keep your options open!  

UBC Crest The official logo of the University of British Columbia. Arrow An arrow indicating direction. Arrow in Circle An arrow indicating direction. Caret An arrowhead indicating direction. E-commerce Cart A shopping cart. Time A clock. Chats Two speech clouds. Facebook The logo for the Facebook social media service. Social Media The globe is the default icon for a social media platform. TikTok The logo for the TikTok social media platform. Calendar Location Home A house in silhouette. Information The letter 'i' in a circle. Instagram The logo for the Instagram social media service. Linkedin The logo for the LinkedIn social media service. Location Pin A map location pin. Mail An envelope. Telephone An antique telephone. Play A media play button. Search A magnifying glass. Arrow indicating share action A directional arrow. Speech Bubble A speech bubble. Star An outline of a star. Twitter The logo for the Twitter social media service. Urgent Message An exclamation mark in a speech bubble. User A silhouette of a person. Vimeo The logo for the Vimeo video sharing service. Youtube The logo for the YouTube video sharing service. Future of work A logo for the Future of Work category. Inclusive leadership A logo for the Inclusive leadership category. Planetary health A logo for the Planetary health category. Solutions for people A logo for the Solutions for people category. Thriving cities A logo for the Thriving cities category. University for future A logo for the University for future category.