All posts by Sally French

Girls can’t fly drones

Psych! They totally can!

Except the sad thing is that many people think girls can’t fly drones.

Simon Newton, creator of “On The Kitchen Table”, a video podcast aimed at multirotor, quadcopter and drone users, invited me to virtually chat at his kitchen table about February’s #FemalePilots Awareness month — as well as a load of other things like wine, coconut water, stay-at-home dads, computer science and Frozen.

Most important, we tackle a really important subject — why are there so few women involved in drones (or are there?) and what we can do to encourage more to get involved.

Watch below!

Did you like this podcast? If so, check out Simon Newton’s site for more fun and informative videos on topics like drone liability insurance and winter flying tips.

Can’t hire enough waiters at your restaurant? Hire a drone

The following piece is an excerpt from an article I wrote for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

MW-DF395_infini_20150211185454_ZH-1Singapore restaurant chain Timbre Group has made some new additions to its waitstaff, and unlike their colleagues, the fresh hires can fly and don’t earn wages.

Infinium Robotics’ drones are due to be introduced at the restaurant chain by the end of the year, carrying up to 4.4 pounds of food and drink each, according to the BBC. The airborne, unpiloted robots will deliver food within the restaurant by swooping over the heads of diners on paths charted by a computer program, using infra-red sensors placed around the restaurant.

Infinium says the drones will be able to free up staff members to focus more on interacting with customers or other tasks that require higher-level thinking. It’s especially important in Singapore, where the country’s food-and-beverage industry lacks nearly 7,000 people.

“The food-and-beverage (F&B) sector is plagued by a severe shortage of workers,” according to a report from Singapore’s Ministory of Trade and Industry. “Many seemed to attribute this to the low profile of the industry, long and irregular working hours, as well as the negative connotation associated with an F&B service staff.”

It’s a similar situation in the U.S., where the 2012 average annual salary for waiters and waitresses was $18,590, according to the American Job Center. And it’s not easy for the U.S. restaurants to find waiters either: Nearly 43% of open jobs in the food-service industry remain unfilled for longer than three months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Could U.S. establishments benefit from drone waiters?

“Robots can shift tasks away from humans, and we can do the higher cognitive functions,” said Jonathan Rupprecht, a commercial pilot and practicing lawyer. “Robots can’t do art, can’t mix drinks. They can’t put garnishments on food. You can spend more money on the chef, then free him up with robots that can work long hours.”

The price for the Infinium Robotics drone is not publicly available, but Rupprecht says high-tech drones such as ones used for detection by bomb squads can cost more than $100,000. The DJI Spreading Wings S1000 costs about $3,600.

“But you’re not going to have to pay income taxes or health insurance to robots,” Rupprecht said. “It takes a lot of problems off the table from a business standpoint.”

Singapore has been working to find technological solutions to solve its labor shortage. A Singapore tax credit launched in 2010, the Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme, allows businesses to get a 400% tax deduction of up to $400,000 for qualifying expenditures.

Read the rest of this article on MarketWatch.com.

Here’s Team BlackSheep’s response to sexist remarks

A few weeks back, a drone enthusiast who goes by Anders came across something he found to be offensively sexist on Team BlackSheep’s online shop.

It read, “By combining their power we slashed a whopping 12% off the individual set price, which will probably go well with your wives or girlfriends :)”Team BlackSheep Online Store Premium FPV components and solutions

Anders stood up to this perceived sexism by emailing Pirker, explaining why he viewed the shop text as a gender stereotype and suggested considering changing it.

“It assumes the FPS-enthusiast browsing your store is male and sends a signal that women are not welcome,” he wrote in a private email to Pirker, that was later posted to the TBS Facebook page. “No wonder there are so few women flying FPV if this is the attitude they have to put up with everywhere. Please consider re-phrasing the text to remove any sexist jokes.”

Pirker wrote back saying, “The text isn’t sexist, and according to our statistics, our audience is 99.8% male. With the exception of a few females…some of them opening tickets complaining about sexist remarks :)”

I wrote about this in an earlier piece on my site as part of a glimpse into the broader sexism of the drone industry.

Since then, Raphael Pirker, Trappy, wrote a response on his site. It’s humble, it’s wistful, and I’m deeply grateful that someone as influential as Trappy would take the effort to make a profound post like this public on his page. This is a perfect example of the steps the industry needs to take — looking back at past examples of sexism and looking at how we can stop it. Trappy is one of the first major figures in drones to take that step.

Book review: Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them

jonathan rupprecht drone book lawWhat are drones even used for? Is this legal, what I’m doing with drones?

“Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them” is a handy primer on drone use and laws, suitable for anyone ranging from the drone novice to the drone expert seeking legal clarification.

With the media buzzing about drones and an uptick of drone users (and accidents), this book couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time (and we needed it years earlier). And it’s not just drone enthusiasts who need to read this. It should be read by ill-informed media reporters, police officers using drones, policy makers and everyone else trying to make their footprint in the drone world.

Written by Jonathan B. Rupprecht, a lawyer and a commercial pilot, the 100 page book defines nearly every facet of drone laws, serving as a handy reference guide for drone enthusiasts when faced with a legal question surrounding drones.

Despite its brevity, ‘Drones’ is still the most comprehensive and authoritative book of its kind to date, updated to reflect the  latest in drone regulation, or lack thereof.  And the brevity is the beauty here. It is clear, concise and to the point, an antithesis to the current state of drone laws. ‘Drones’ is excellently and clearly sourced to allow for further reading for the most curious minds.

Nine sections are organized according to topic, ranging from a brief overview of unmanned aircraft (that can be quickly skimmed by the more knowledgable drone enthusiasts), to must-reads for even the most knowledgeable drone enthusiast, including the FAA’s Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the Future of Unmanned Aircraft.

The best owner’s manuals or guidebooks do keep the unexpected into account, which is where ‘Drones’ falls flat. While it provides exactly what a drone user expects they need, it fails to deliver the uncanny or surprising. There are no personal anecdotes, no charming highlights of creative drone use, no thought-provoking solutions to the real-world problems drone pilots are faced with.

That isn’t to say the book isn’t worth a spot on your bookshelf or Kindle. At $3.99, the book is a low-priced foot in the door to legal guidelines that even the most casual drone pilot needs to be aware of. It’s a must-read for knowing your rights when flying.

‘Drones’ is available for $3.99 via the Amazon Kindle store.

In eliminating gender stereotypes in the drone industry, it’s not enough to passively wait for others to change

A drone enthusiast who goes by Anders came across something he found to be offensively sexist on Team BlackSheep’s online shop.

It reads, “By combining their power we slashed a whopping 12% off the individual set price, which will probably go well with your wives or girlfriends :)”Team BlackSheep Online Store   Premium FPV components and solutions

Anders stood up to this perceived sexism by emailing Pirker, explaining why he viewed the shop text as a gender stereotype and suggested considering changing it.

“It assumes the FPS-enthusiast browsing your store is male and sends a signal that women are not welcome,” he wrote in a private email to Pirker, that was later posted to the TBS Facebook page. “No wonder there are so few women flying FPV if this is the attitude they have to put up with everywhere. Please consider re-phrasing the text to remove any sexist jokes.”

Pirker wrote back saying, “The text isn’t sexist, and according to our statistics, our audience is 99.8% male. With the exception of a few females…some of them opening tickets complaining about sexist remarks :)”

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It’s been hotly debated both on the Team BlackSheep Facebook page, where Anders originally posted this, and on various other forums such as Amelia Droneharts, a closed Facebook group for women interested in drones, where this email exchange was first brought to my attention.

Given the prominence of people involved (Raphael Pirker is widely noted as one of the most influential people in drones for contesting a $10,000 fine for flying his drone to shoot commercial video), I realized I can’t passively ignored what was said on this post.

I reached out to Pirker for comment. Here is his email statement:

“My email response to Anders was written on pupose (sic) to be as offensive and as sexist as possible, because he is an overly-sensitive idiot and this is how we were brought up to deal with them. Sure we could have explained to Anders why he is an idiot, that his point is moot and that he should learn to identify a joke instead of calling us all kinds of names. But that would have been as much a waste of time as discussing this further is. If anyone else was offended by my email, I apologize, I can understand how it can be misinterpreted but it was also not intended and worded to be read by a third party.”

Anders is not “an overly-sensitive idiot.” He is someone making an effort to include women. Anders is an example of being proactive about breaking barriers and welcoming women, no matter how insignificant it seems.

The similarities between today’s drones and personal computers in the 1980s

Women are interested in technology. In 2013, Code.org launched its “Hour of Code” campaign to advocate for more computer science education. 15 million students participated the first week, and more than half of the participants were girls.

The RC industry historically has many similarities to personal computers.

“A lot of computing pioneers — the people who programmed the first digital computers — were women,” according to a piece in NPR. “And for decades, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men. But in 1984, something changed. The share of women in computer science started falling at roughly the same moment when personal computers started showing up in U.S. homes in significant numbers.”

This follows a trend similar to the RC field. People like Leisa Adkins have been building and flying model aircraft for decades. Recently, the emergence of DJI Phantoms and the greater accessibility to FPV and DIY drones or other RC copters have brought this technology to the general public and to more U.S. homes.

“These early personal computers weren’t much more than toys,” according to NPR. “You could play pong or simple shooting games, maybe do some word processing. And these toys were marketed almost entirely to men and boys.”

Drones are at a similar stage now that PCs were in the 1980s.

Take Patricia Ordóñez, a math whiz in school, who grew up without a computer. When she got to John Hopkins University in the ‘80s, she took a computer science class. Her male peers were already ahead of her because they had grown up playing computers.

“I remember this one time I asked a question and the professor stopped and looked at me and said, ‘You should know that by now,’ ” she told NPR. “And I thought ‘I am never going to excel.’ ”

She got the first C of her life in that class and ended up dropping the program.

When Women Stopped Coding   Planet Money   NPR

With high drop-out rates come very few female leaders in the industry. 100% of the executive leadership at venture-backed companies 3D Robotics and Skycatch is male, I wrote in an earlier Drone Girl piece.

The number of drone operators is expected to climb at an annualized 4.0% rate over the next five years through 2020, according to an IBISWorld study.

The good news is that we are at the early stage of an industry that is rapidly growing. We are currently transitioning from the pioneering period to the mainstream consumer market.

“We’re in the really early days of drones,” said Faine Greenwood, a field analyst at the New America Foundation where she works on a drones for an international development project. “It’s our responsibility as women to care about this, to be vocal and work hard to ensure that from the beginning it isn’t sexist.”

‘This isn’t an issue for women. It’s an issue for humanity.’

Pirker has a right to write what he wants, and Anders doesn’t have to shop at TBS. But Anders absolutely did the right thing here for all women by pointing out that Pirker may want to consider re-phrasing the text on his shop to be inclusive to all.

Pirker has made massive strides for this community. When he went to federal court to fight the $10,000 fine he was slapped with for commercial drone use, he wasn’t fighting for himself — it was for all of us entrepreneurs looking to further the drone industry. He has taken aerial video to a completely new level and inspired thousands of people to be creative with aerial video. He’s easily one of the most important people in drones.

That’s why it’s disheartening to see someone so influential and inspirational in the drone world brushing this off.

“If you are already the dominant group in an industry, it’s easy to act like a comment doesn’t mean anything,” Greenwood said. “And on the whole, I’ve been impressed with the drone community and the guys in it. I felt welcomed and acknowledged. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the idiots.”

The slightly-less-than-PC joke on Pirker’s shop description was not the worst thing in the world. What’s wrong here is the disregard for failing to acknowledge how we can make this community more inclusive. It’s a man putting down another man for trying to take an important step in achieving equality for women.

What we’ve accomplished so far

Anders is an example of positive ways men can have a huge impact in changing the landscape of sexism in technology.

Anders is not alone in making huge strides to be more inclusive. DJI declared February as Female Pilots Awareness month, with a focus on featuring female photographers in their Instagram, hosting flight lessons geared toward women, creating videos profiling women who fly drones and hosting Q&As with female drone users. They aren’t exclusively marketing their drones to men, even if the overwhelming majority of their current customers are male. A group called Amelia Droneharts has sprung up as a place for female pilots to virtually convene.

Whether you identify as a man or a woman, it is our responsibility to be welcoming of all people into the community.

It is not enough for us to passively behave as we usually would. It is not enough to accept the status quo. We need to actively be conscious of how what we say and do is perceived, so that we create a community that everyone, women and men, want to be a part of.

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Hover mobile app tells you where you can and can’t fly drones

hover app
Photo/Hover

Dan Held more or less fits the mold of your Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

He always want to fly model planes as a kid, but they were just too expensive. He speaks with a barely noticeable Texas “y’all.” He moved to San Francisco, where his full-time job is with a bitcoin startup. That’s on-top of a bursting resume of other startups and mobile apps that he created in his free-time.

His San Francisco apartment is filled with two DJI Phantoms, some cheap toy drones and homemade FPV racing drones. The FPV drones belong to his roommate, Kevin Johnson, a software developer. Held says his roommate is the reason his latest startup, Hover, exists.

“Kevin bought a Phantom II Vision+,” Held said. “We take it out usually on weekends to Golden Gate Park and do loops around the racing field.”

But they noticed things missing when they flew: a timer to know how long you had been flying. Weather data. News. Knowledge of whether or not you can legally fly in that area.

“We really liked drones, but there wasn’t an app filling our needs,” Held said.

Like most business deals in the Silicon Valley startup world begin, the two roommates, Held and Johnson, merged their skill sets. Johnson is the engineer, and Held is the marketing, design and “idea” guy.

Together, they created Hover, an app for iOS and recently released for Android. Continue reading Hover mobile app tells you where you can and can’t fly drones

It’s February! Let’s celebrate female pilots (this month and every month)

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Photo by Sally French, The Drone Girl

Six drone operators met in January in Los Angeles, California to carry out one mission: fly a drone from the landing pad over to a flag, snap a photo, fly over the trees, snap another photo of a different flag, and return to home.

The drones were laid out neatly on a table near by; one of them is labeled Bessie, and the majority of drones are decorated with pink stickers.

The operators include award-winning photographers, journalists and search-and-rescue leaders.

The team is made up of:

Rhianna Lakin, founder of the Amelia Dronehart RC Copter Group. She spent much of the past 15 years in Indonesia where she participated in relief efforts.

Sarah Oneal, cofounder of That Drone Show, a daily video podcast all about drones and creator of International Drone Today, a day in March to gather pilots around the world to fly drones, culminating with the main event in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Isabelle Nyroth, a director at Unmanned Experts, a group made up of experts with over 25,000 flying hours on UAS operations.

Jessika Farrar, a drone pilot and mission analysts with SWARM, a worldwide volunteer search and rescue network of over 1,100 drone pilots. She is also the co-founder of ASG Aerial Filming Services.

Laurie Rubin, an international award-winning wildlife and nature photographer and has had photos displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Sally French, (me!) author of The Drone Girl, a blog dedicated to drones. Her drone photography has been published in news outlets including The Economist, Forbes, the BBC and NPR.

Notice something that’s likely a bit out of the ordinary here? All the operators are women. It’s something of a rarity in the drone realm to have a group solely made up of female pilots, but it’s a continuation of a demographic trend in the tech industry.

That’s why DJI and Facebook group Amelia Droneharts teamed up to declare February as Female Pilots Awareness month.

Women have made an important role in the drone industry, including Marilyn Monroe, who assembled drones during World War II Helen Greiner, who created the Roomba, and Missy Cummings, one of the U.S. Navy’s first female fighter pilots.

Photo by Sally French, The Drone Girl
Photo by Sally French, The Drone Girl

Female Pilots Awareness month will break down the stereotypes and show that there’s no reason why a woman can’t be an excellent drone operator.

Throughout the month, DJI, Droneharts and of course, Drone Girl will showcase the plethora of female pilots through Twitter, Instagram and videos.
One video you should watch for? DJI’s video of those six women carrying out that mission. But the mission wasn’t simply about proving they can fly and snapping photos.
The real mission is proving the world and empowering everyone with the truth that anyone can fly.