Category Archives: Drone Girl Profiles

Drone Girl profiles: European FPV star Lexie Janson on getting sponsors and racing internationally

24-year-old Lexie Janson is quickly becoming Europe’s FPV star. Originally from Gdynia, Poland, she’s traveling all over the continent, calling me from a trip to Ireland where she was preparing for Irish Drone Nationals. We discussed getting sponsorships, air traffic control and of course, drone racing. Read on!

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Drone Girl: I was expecting to talk to you from Poland, but it turns out you’re in Ireland!

Lexie Janson: I’m in 3 countries in 3 weeks. I just got done meeting some guys who are my fans. They took me to some awesome spots to fly FPV.

DG: Jeez, you’re famous!

LJ: I don’t feel famous.

DG: Okay, so for people who don’t know you, tell us how you got into drones. Continue reading Drone Girl profiles: European FPV star Lexie Janson on getting sponsors and racing internationally

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi is helping drones fly without GPS

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi wants to make it easier for drones to fly — even in areas where GPS isn’t reliable — places like street canyons, indoors, and even forests.

Shahbazi received her BSc degree in civil/surveying engineering in 2009, her MSc degree in geomatics/photogrammetry engineering in 2011, and then moved on to doing PhD research focused on the development of drones for 3D modeling at the Université de Sherbrooke in Canada. She is currently an assistant professor of geomatics engineering at the University of Calgary in Canada.

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi
Courtesy of Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi

Drone Girl: You’ve done incredible work based on enabling drones to know their environment without the use of GPS. What does that entail?

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi: I’m working on different types of sensors for autonomous navigation – those based on vision and those not based on vision. The ones not based on vision I cannot discuss because they are confidential! But the parts based on vision are more exciting.

They include laser scanning, which is a type of active sensing. Measurements are done from a type of instrument which sends laser beams to objects and calculates its range from them.

Then there are visual sensors. Cameras don’t measure depth, so what I’m working on is multi-view stereo. In the case of a drone, we set cameras on all sides so we have a 360-degree cover. It’s important to shoot the front, back, side and ground. And because of bird attacks and to be aware of other aircrafts, it’s important to have a view pointing up too!

DG: Bird attacks?! Is that an issue? Continue reading Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi is helping drones fly without GPS

Blueye’s Christine Spiten thinks underwater drones will save our oceans

Blueye Robotics co-founder Christine Spiten loves the oceans. She lives on a boat, she’s traveled by boat across the Atlantic ocean, and she even is a 2007 Norwegian Champion in Sailing. Naturally, she’s behind a new underwater drone with the intent to explore the ocean.

The Norway-based robotics company Blueye today launched a drone called ‘The Pioneer’, which can go up to 150 meters down (that’s 8x the depth an average scuba diver can go).

I chatted with the company’s co-founder, 27-year-old Christine Spiten, to find out what the drone is all about.

Christine holds a M.Sc in Industrial Economics and Technology Management from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Robotics from UFRJ in Rio, Brazil. She was also named one of Norway’s 50 most important female tech founders 2017.

The Blueye Pioneer underwater drone.

Drone Girl: Most of us think of a flying robot when we hear the word drone, but it applies to underwater robots too sometimes! How is the Pioneer different or similar to what we’re used to?

Christine Spiten:  The underwater drone is much like an aerial drone. You control it from your own smart device — tablet smartphone or computer. It’s like flying an aerial drone — but I think it’s even easier to ‘fly.’

The biggest difference between an underwater and an aerial drone is you get to see a part of the world that you’ve never been able to see before. You become a real explorer.

DG: What kind of background led you to the underwater drone industry?

CS: I had an internship for an oil company back in 2012, while I was still a student. We did a project on environmental monitoring subsea. We used huge, traditional ROVs (remotely operated underwater vehicles). They were complex and clunky. I was thinking about how other electronics are more available for regular consumers. Why isn’t there a smart version of these ROVs to allow regular people to become explorers? Continue reading Blueye’s Christine Spiten thinks underwater drones will save our oceans

Meet DroneDeploy’s head of “Flylanthrophy” Samantha Salis

DroneDeploy Samantha Salis
DroneDeploy’s Samantha Salis

Running into old high school friends on the street is fun. Running into old high school friends at a drone conference? Incredible! That’s exactly what happened to me when I ran into Samantha Salis, who is now crushing it in the drone industry. Not only is she a Senior SDR at drone mapping software company DroneDeploy, which raised $20 million in a Series B funding round last August, but she is also pouring her heart into the company by initiating its philanthropic arm — appropriately called “Flylanthrophy.”

Do you know an awesome drone girl I should profile? Contact me here.

Drone Girl: So you and I have known each other for a while, so I’m familiar with your sales and startup background. Tell me, when it came to switching jobs, why drones?

Samantha Salis: At first, I was mainly seeking security, and with a market valued at over $100 billion in 2020, I saw a clear opportunity to grow my career. However, as I began to learn about how drones and drone mapping are helping people on a granular level, the connection became much more meaningful. Every day at DroneDeploy, we talk to people whose day to day has been completely transformed by drone mapping; whether that’s a solar designer who no longer has to climb on a roof to get a measurement or a farmer who now has the power to protect his farm from pest infestations.

DG: For sure. I’m always interested in people’s initial perception of drones before they get entrenched in the industry.

SS: Before I became familiar with photogrammetry, I’ll admit — I saw drones as a fun or creative tool. But once you see the wide range of insights you can get from a drone map, you see that drones are an incredible window into a world of information that was previously inaccessible, geographically or financially. People are shocked when they find out they can use a drone to gather information in a few hours that previously took them days or weeks. It’s pretty exciting to see.

Drone Girl: Tell me what you do here at DroneDeploy! 

SS: My official role is sales development, but I also head DroneDeploy’s philanthropic initiatives, which we refer to as “Flylanthropy.” It’s exciting that our growth has given us more bandwidth to give back to the community. Continue reading Meet DroneDeploy’s head of “Flylanthrophy” Samantha Salis

Meet “Lone Drone” creator Vanessa Elliott

Many filmmakers make movies with a drone. Filmmaker Vanessa Elliott is making a film starring a drone.

Elliott is a California-based filmmaker, who has worked on projects including projects for Vice Media, the short film “Share” by Pippa Biano, a Netflix documentary in post production called “Mortified Guide”, and has even starred as an actress with Disney. She studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned her B.A. in Film & Media.  Now, she’s breaking out into the drone world with a film project that stars a drone as the main character. It’s called “The Lone Drone.”

Drone Girl: What’s your film about?

Vanessa Elliott: “The Lone Drone” is set in the not-so-distant future when drones are more common and prevalent in daily life. It follows a drone that lives in a house with a family and helps with household chores. One day it is faced with a morally questionable option from its master. The drone gets confused and ultimately escapes the situation completely. As it gets further away of its human masters, it becomes self-aware. It is taken to a wild western landscape that it has never been to; it only knows the house it lives in and city life. This landscape is detailed, colorful, there are wind storms. It discovers its freedom.

This inventive, desert girl ends up finding it trapped, and she is immediately put off by it because she hasn’t been exposed to drones. As she gets to know it, like a kid playing with a balloon for the first time, she thinks it’s wonderful and is mesmerized by it.

The two mirror each other in that they are both lonely and breaking out of their own limited environments. It’s a story of how they find harmony between human beings and possession.

vanessa elliott lone drone
Photo by Kat Nebrida

DG: I know you just got a DJI Mavic — congrats! Will the Mavic play a starring role in the film?

VE: I would like to create a custom drone for the project — I have designs laid out. My plan is to work with someone who can help me build out the drone from scratch.

DG: And then I’m guessing the film will have plenty of drone shots.

VE: Absolutely there will be drone shots in the film. We’ll have multiple drones on set. There will be the “hero” drone. We’ll always have that drone filming for that over-the-shoulder view. Then we’ll have a drone following the “hero” drone, there will pretty much always be at least two drones in the air. Continue reading Meet “Lone Drone” creator Vanessa Elliott

Meet New York-filmmaker and drone pilot Victoria Sendra

Meet Victoria Sendra, a Brooklyn, NY-based filmmaker (producer/director/cinematographer/editor) who incorporates drones into her work. Sendra directed a music video for alternative/indie singer JFDR (whose full name is Jofridur Akadottir)’s single “Wires,” which was shot entirely on a drone. Find her on Instagram and on her personal website.

Drone Girl: How long have you been flying drones, and how did you get into it?

Victoria Sendra: I have only been flying drones since September! I was working on a dance film in a huge building in NYC and realized that it would be a great opportunity to get a drone and learn how to use it in time for the shoot. I grew up playing with remote controlled cars, planes, helicopters and boats, and so it took very little time to learn how to fly. I named my drone Eva Bot.
DG: At what point did you decide this music video should be shot on a drone?

VS: After I got my drone, I reached out to Jofri (we had worked together on a music video earlier that year) and asked if she would like to go out and film a video. She got back to me a few months later with the concept and we went upstate to film in the woods.

DG: What gear did you use to shoot the video?

VS: A DJI Phantom 4.

DG: That’s one of the best drones out there! Excellent choice. So what are some of the challenges of shooting a music video on a drone vs. a traditional camera? Continue reading Meet New York-filmmaker and drone pilot Victoria Sendra

Lyela Mutisya hopes drones can save Kenya’s coffee industry

Lyela Mutisya is a senior at Lewis University in Illinois, studying Aviation Administration. She’s got her sights set far beyond graduation day, and how she can use drones to eventually help her father’s coffee farm in Kenya.

Do you know an awesome drone girl I should profile? Contact me here.

Drone Girl: What’s your drone story, and what got you into it?

Lyela Mutisya: I took a course in fall of 2015 called Introduction into Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Before that, I had no idea about prevision agriculture or search and rescue applications for drones; I only knew about military applications. My professor started talking about all the things you could use drones for.

Lyela Mutisya drone girl coffee kenya
Photo by Mervyn John

DG: Heh, that sort of sounds like my story! I also took a drone course in school — pretty much because it was the only thing that fit in my schedule. So tell me how coffee comes into play.

LM: The year before I had traveled to Kenya and found out my dad had a coffee farm. I was excited to find out one day that coffee farm would be mine, but also dismayed to find out he makes just 20 cents a pound of coffee. I thought, ‘I have to do something about this.’

They can’t afford fertilizer, which is one of the critical inputs in coffee production. A well-managed coffee farm can produce up to 30 pounds of coffee per tree, but a coffee farm that can’t afford fertilizer produces more like 5 pounds of coffee per tree.

In Kenya right now, the coffee production has declined. In 1988 they produced 130,000 tons. Now it’s under 50,000 tons of coffee. Kenya is known for its quality of coffee and it saddens me that they aren’t making profit.

I thought, ‘What if we used drones in coffee farms to help them manage fertilizer? If the coffee farm is well managed, they can produce quality cherries and make more money.’ I thought, ‘I could definitely do this.’

Drone technology is effective at collecting data to help coffee farmers improve crop health. They can have a role in efficient crop scouting, earlier yield predictions, earlier crop stress detection, enhanced irrigation management and control, and more precise nutrient and chemical applications.

Pest and decision control is very important in coffee farming. Pests can cause an 80% loss in coffee trees. That alone can significantly hurt a coffee farm. If a tree were to get infected and lose 80% of their crop, a drone can help prevent that. Continue reading Lyela Mutisya hopes drones can save Kenya’s coffee industry

Drone Girl profiles: Meet Abbe Lyle

Meet Abbe Lyle, one of the most fun personalities in the drone industry, and a talented drone pilot (and a private pilot). She has been a professional photographer for more than 15 years and was one of the early adopters of DJI’s drones.

How have you turned drones into a career?

Because I love flying so much, it integrated naturally into my workflow. Obviously it took time to really master the controls, but going back when restrictions simply were not in place as they are today, I would supplement images for my clients’ websites (especially the cutting edge high tech clients who loved the idea of incorporating new technology through their images). Then I started teaching safe flight to groups at conferences, kids in schools, or intense week long classes at Maine Media Workshops and College with Scott Strimple.

Now I am working with Visual Law as a pilot and their creative director. What I really love about this is that we create recreations of crime scenes incorporating drone technology, along with ground based scanning to give a true extremely exact rendition of the scene. Mark and myself talk at forensic conferences about what we do and it is a totally different audience! There is a tremendous amount of excitement, and a thirst for knowledge.

abbe lyle dji phantom
Courtesy Abbe Lyle

You actually just got back from your Maine Media Workshop. What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for drone photographers?

Learn the rules before you fly. Give yourself the gift of taking to the skies with confidence. Don’t try and be cavalier, take baby steps and you will have a great foundation. Take a class, any class! Don’t write off the importance of the Part 107 rules even if you are only flying for recreation. Sorry, Sally, that is more than one piece of advice!

I’ll take it! On that note, what are things a lot of people with a standard photography background don’t realize about drone photography?

This is such a great question and one that is extremely close to my heart. Continue reading Drone Girl profiles: Meet Abbe Lyle