On march 23, the Government of Nepal announced a nationwide lockdown for 10 days which escalated following confirmation of the country’s second case of the coronavirus. With this decision the country was brought to a halt with shutdowns in almost all economic activities. As days progressed the covid-19 cases soared higher, resulting in extension of the lockdown. Days became weeks and weeks turned into months. During this period of lockdown we adopted the work from home policy and we turned our focus mostly on the things that could be done from home like software development and mechanical design. Well, being a drone company, the work could not be simply limited to that and we had to do actual field work and work on fabrication, especially when it was related to spreading COVID-19 awareness using drones. So basically this is a journal which covers the experiences I had fabricating drones during the lockdown.
The basic idea was to relay a caution message to people to take necessary precautions and just stay at home. We thought of using a megaphone with drones to cover a longer range to transmit messages. Talking in numbers we brought up three drones during the lockdown. We tested the first one at Thimi and the response was quite good but realised that it was not so suitable for places with large audiences, so we opted for smaller drones. The result was two smaller drones, with one as backup. This might sound good and all, but there were lots of challenges and hurdles we had to overcome just to come up with a working prototype. The first and the most concerning was the risk of getting infected. The second, transport. We didn’t have any kind of passes to permit free movement. The third, we didn’t have all the components. We had to make do with the team members available, so workforce was also an issue as we were only three. Also, when returning back home there were hassles of cleansing, showering, changing clothes regularly. So, we decided to stay at the office until the work was completed.
The first thing was to make arrangements for a vehicle. We were favoured with a one way trip to the office with a temporary stop on the way to procure some necessary parts. Even then, we were still short of some stuff for which we walked and wandered, and for the things which we couldn’t find we had to improvise. After working days and nights at the office, finally on the fourth day the manufacturing process was complete. It was harsh to work in such an environment with no proper timing for food and rest. We slept on the floor with some straw mattress laid down. I somehow managed to get enough sleep but I cannot say the same for my team mates. Even though it was hard, it was fun at times and the overall experience was quite good. Then came the moment of truth, the day of the flight. We were really worried as we didn’t have enough time to make test flights and the demo flight was its first flight. With trembling hands the first flight was made, and to our relief the performance was really good.
After the completion of the flights we realised the drone was too large and dangerous to fly around places with houses and people. So then we decided to switch to smaller drones. At the time UNICEF Nepal also wanted to work with us, considering the message relay drones. But we didn’t have components to bring up another drone and had to move the work to Kirtipur(NIC). But with many people flocking around NIC, we felt at risk and decided to work on days and return back. The main difficulty then was, transportation with traffic checks being conducted junction to junction. For this, we came to a conclusion to stay again at the Office in Kupondole and commute to Kirtipur, as it would be easy, instead of going back home and there was only one traffic check point on the way. But we didn’t have a proper pass to move freely so we used whatever we had. I happened to use my Engineering card and hung it around my neck with a strap. After several observations, we realised that the security officials did a thorough checking during the morning hours. So, we only made movements after 11. We would try to avoid the main road as much as possible, however one checkpoint was inevitable. We would act normal and hope the security officials didn’t stop us on the way. There were times, when it seemed like they would but fortunately it never happened. As we reached Kirtipur, we went into action and tried to complete the work as soon as possible. We would stay late, and return after dark and there would be no checks while returning. After four days of endurance, two working drones were assembled and ready to be brought into action.
Lastly, there was one final hurdle, which was to return home. You know, that feeling of cutting some slack and not caring much for the last exam, at that moment we felt the same. We didn’t care much about the security checks and just went with the flow. Well, on the way I realised there were so many checkpoints, figuratively speaking, about 5 or 6. Luckily no one stopped us on the way and we finally reached home. However tiresome and difficult it had been, the overall experience was good. I would feel like an outlaw when sneaking through the security officials, which felt kind of cool (you know the feeling you get, when breaking rules). The overall experience was great, we were like a family working together be it preparing meals, washing dishes or working on the actual job at hand. It felt kind of lively, to have a friendly interaction after staying at home for so long. To simply put it, it was one hell of an experience.