Spotlight Series: Q&A with Pralish Satyal, Robotics Engineering Undergraduate.

We spoke with Pralish, Mechatronics and Robotics Undergraduate, with a keen interest in eco-engineering

What is your ethnic and academic background?

I was born in Nepal in 2000 and was raised there till the age of 5, after which I came to the UK. I have been living in the UK since 2005 and while I have adapted mostly to British culture, I still consider myself to be Nepali. I’m currently in my second year at University studying Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering!

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

My father works in human geography and has been a large influence on my feelings towards climate change and sustainability. I try my best not to use anything I don’t need and  try to reduce my waste. My mother would always tell me to eat all my dinner and to not throw any of it away, keep to short showers and to not waste any water. I felt a natural inclination to follow these patterns, especially after seeing the necessity of these commodities back in Nepal.

One major catalyst was in fact one time when I went back to Nepal. I had seen young children playing on the street by a pile of burning plastic bags. This struck my heart as I was worried for the safety of the children (with the thick, toxic, black smoke) as well as for the environment. 

Can you tell me about your academic career so far and any sustainability research you’re working on? How does it all link to robotics?

My academic career so far has been quite eventful. We’ve learnt about sustainability and ethics and I have already formed my own beliefs as an engineer. Engineering is a process in which we create products to better society. How can we do this without thinking about the impacts to society and the environment? 

In our course, we’ve learnt about things such as the product life cycle and how we can go about certain ways when it comes to manufacturing devices to make them more sustainable. We also must consider other factors such as the materials used, the direct and indirect impact to the environment and whether all these factors can lead to the positives outweighing the negatives of manufacturing that product. 

One example I’d like to think about improving is mobile phones. Companies nowadays are prioritising sales of newer devices every two years as opposed to the impact on the environment. We see such an incentive for people to buy new phones that are slightly upgraded every two years – but what do we do with the older devices? A lot of this process could be made circular, however the easier solution that a large proportion of people follow, is unfortunately to dispose of the phone. This is also due to the fact that some phones are designed to be such a closed system that it might appear cheaper to just buy a new phone, than to simply replace that one component to improve or fix the device (take the iPhone 11 as an example).

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

For 19 years of my life, I always assumed that successes and learnings were purely to do with academia. It was only recently that I realised this was a skewed view. I’ve learnt from my friends and family that not everything you learn in life will be from the classroom – this is also true about sustainability. While we do brush up on the importance of sustainability in some of our lectures, I learnt a whole lot more from the internet, social media and talking to my father. It’s an area which I feel is very important and should be prioritised for the future.

I’ve been quite passionate about sustainability for a while and have practically used some of the electronics knowledge I’ve learnt to build my own C02 monitor. It tracks how much carbon dioxide is being output in a given area, per length of time. This has helped me monitor how much carbon emissions I’m producing when, for example, cooking or using any appliances. I’ve been able to also monitor outside in the mornings how much Carbon Dioxide we produce, e.g. when people are leaving and going to work.


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Prototype C02 Monitor on a breadboard
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C02 Monitor soldered onto a PCB Board

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I’ve started noticing how all the little things can have a larger impact down the line. For example, while it may seem like a small thing, having a slightly shorter shower (from 10 minutes to 5 minutes) daily can have a much larger impact on water usage for the whole year when you consider how many showers you and your family have per year.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think that within the South Asian community, we simply prioritise different issues in life. For first generation immigrants their priority might be about adapting to the place that they live in – sustainability is unlikely to be their focus. If we are discussing the South Asian community within the region of South Asia, it might also be the case of prioritising the more short-term evident impactful things in life. Sustainability in the moment might not seem like something to prioritise however it can have major impacts down the line (if we do nothing). In South Asia, people might be focussing on more relevant issues to them for example, working, living, trying to keep up with the bills. Sustainability might not even cross their minds, as these daily survival issues would naturally be prioritised.

Why should all engineers engage with sustainable methods and responsible supply chains? How can they best be engaged?

Sustainable methods are important for engineers as we are tasked with creating and manufacturing the many products which society inevitably will use. While it might seem that they are the small parts of a larger process, each engineer should take a moral duty to consider the sustainability in their methods. For example, a process in which we might obtain energy through oil. To obtain oil, we may have to do fracking. This isn’t a sustainable process in obtaining energy for the planet since there is only a finite amount of oil on the planet, and the method of obtaining this oil isn’t sustainable itself – energy is wasted to obtain energy, finite oil is obtained which will eventually run out and a lot of land is degraded for this to occur. 

Engineers could consider more sustainable solutions, like obtaining energy in a completely different way (i.e. HEP, solar energy etc). Engineers have a moral obligation to consider societal impacts, impacts to the environment and the sustainability of their processes, as their methods will have large collective impacts on us all.

How do you see sustainability fitting into your future career choice? What kind of job would you like?

If I’m completely honest, I’m not exactly sure what I want to work in or what field. However, what I do know is this…  I’d love to work for a company where I know they take sustainability and their impacts to society seriously. I’d love to be in a position where I could help others to be more sustainable and to ensure that this happens. Due to this, I do have the ambition of running my own company in Robotics/AI/Electronics/Manufacturing where I know I’d be able to oversee this.