PNG Flying Labs: reaching Papua New Guinea’s unreached


How do you reach Papua New Guineans in remote areas? With drones – and a new company, PNG Flying Labs, is trying to ensure the next generation is qualified to fly them.

PNG Flying Labs

Sophia-Joy Soli, PNG Flying Labs. Credit: Rocky Roe/BAI

We all know that much of PNG is still inaccessible by road and that its road network needs an upgrade. While the government works on the National Road Network Strategy 2018-2037, launched in September last year, people living in those areas have trouble accessing essential services.

But when it comes to alleviating some of their needs, such as access to medicines and humanitarian aid, the answer could be in the skies.

About five years ago, Kevin Soli returned home after a medical research trip to a remote village in PNG. During his trip, a man told him that his son was ill and required basic painkillers. The nearest place where he could get the medicines was about a day’s walk.

Kevin shared the story with his wife, Sophia-Joy Soli, who used to work in PNG’s heavy haulage industry and knew well the transport challenges in the country.

The couple then decided to join forces and combine their expertise in medicine (Kevin used to work for the US Centre for Disease and Control [CDC] in PNG) and transport to help people living remote areas.

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.

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‘We need technicians. We need capacity. We need people to support the operations that we may have.’

‘We asked ourselves, how can we work together to help bring medication or to help people in remote villages?’ says Sophia. ‘So, we decided to use drones.’

No potholes to stop them

In 2018, the CDC contacted the international NGO WeRobotics to help them conduct a test and organise training on transporting medical cargo in PNG.

WeRobotics worked with Soli Consultancy and the Indian drone developer Redwing Labs to organise the training and introduce potential stakeholders to the technology and standard operating procedures.

Soli Consultancy facilitated the drone transportation exercise, explains Sophia, who has a remote pilot license from the US Federal Aviation Administration. ‘This was held at the Pacific Adventist University [in February 2019] and we successfully simulated the 25-kilometre drone delivery in 25 minutes, carrying about one kilogram of polio vials.’

In April 2019, Soli Consultancy partnered with WeRobotics and Redwing Labs to create PNG Flying Labs, a chapter of WeRobotics, which also has branches in 26 countries. Since then, PNG Flying Labs has been working on partnerships and growth.

‘We have some ideas on how we can improve the simulation that was held,’ she explains. ‘We understand the challenges of delivering in our country and are looking for people who are interested in doing drone deliveries.’


PNG Flying Labs

Kevin and Sophia Joy-Soli. Credit: WeRobotics

Using drones and artificial intelligence (AI) to find socially good solutions and train young Papua New Guineans in the use of unmanned vehicles is key to PNG Flying Labs growth.

Through its partnership with IBS University, PNG Flying Labs delivered in September last year a drone safety workshop and the organisation is now seeking to launch a program to certify drone pilots in PNG.

‘We need technicians. We need capacity. We need people to support the operations that we may have,’ says the PNG Flying Labs Coordinator.

She explains that this is why the company is looking at delivering STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programs to high school students to teach them how to code, map, analyse and fly drones.

‘We believe that in the future we will need young people to support the work that we do,’ she explains.

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