"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."
- Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
- Grad year: 2020
- Campus: Vancouver
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 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.
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.
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
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!