Category Archives: Drone Girl Profiles

Meet the patent attorney who made the drone that won ‘Shark Tank’ happen

Courtesy photo

The next in our series of Drone Girl profiles is with Mel Coombes, a patent attorney at  Lee & Hayes.

Got an idea for a new drone technology? Mel Coombes wants to hear it.

Coombes is a patent attorney at Lee & Hayes who has worked on drone patents including XCraft’s X PlusOne and Phone Drone, the two drones that impressed judges on Shark Tank and landed a $1.5 million deal with all 5 Shark Tank investors, including Mark Cuban.

Coombes’ expertise is rooted in the military, where she served as a former Navy pilot. Coombes was a flight and academic instructor for the U.S. Navy and was responsible for managing training and professional development of hundreds of students, and has received Navy Commendation and Humanitarian Assistance Medals for tsunami relief missions in Sumatra. She was also awarded the Navy Achievement Medal for actions that resulted in saving an aircraft.

Drone Girl: What are you working on right now?

Mel Coombes: xCraft has been consuming my life all week actually; they’re prepping their first shipment to go out this week. xCraft came to us (Lee & Hayes) just one year ago and now they’ve come so far, and even been on Shark Tank. This is all in the span of one year.

SHARK TANK - "Episode 705" - In one of the most exciting moments of "Shark Tank" history, the ante is upped when the Sharks start to bid OVER the asking price for one product and the million dollar offers start to fly. But will greed burst the bubble before a deal is set? Another pitch prompts a brutal brush-off from an irate Shark. Two parents from Salem, Massachusetts pitch their novel idea for managing Trick-or-Treaters' excess candy with a children's book and gifts; two men from Pacific Palisades, California tout their premium beef jerky made from filet mignon which has the Sharks swooning over the taste and the price point; a woman from Sand City, California pitches a full-length mirror designed to build self-esteem, and two men from Sandpoint, Idaho claim they have redefined drones with inventions that fly up to 60 mph and as high as 10,000 feet. In addition, in a follow-up on the NYC-based Bantam Bagels, the company in which Lori Grenier invested last season, we see how their unique stuffed bagels fare when given a national stage, on "Shark Tank," FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23 (9:00-10:01 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Beth Dubber) JD CLARIDGE, CHARLES MANNING (XCRAFT)
JD Claridge and Charles Manning demo XCraft on the set of Shark Tank. (ABC/Beth Dubber)

What are the parallels you see in coming from a military background vs. the commercial and consumer drone market?

It’s kind of interesting. When I started in patent law we didn’t have a great deal of aerospace clients here, so I had very limited exposure right away. With xCraft, it’s been a lot of fun to be able to draw the parallels with my experience in the military and understanding airspace and aviation language and personalities.

Going through the user manual for X Plus One, I was just like, ‘oh! This is so awesome.’ It’s like a NATEC manual in the Navy. They’ve written it almost the same. It’s so neat that they’ve thought of all of these things and spelled it out fort the customer, to make it as simple as possible for the customer.

What’s the wildest patent you’ve ever seen in the drone industry?

I don’t think any idea is really truly crazy. Technology is moving so fast. People would have thought 10 years ago that the things we have today in drones would never happen. As long as an expert in the field can see that would happen — I have an aerospace background — it’s easy to see if something will work aerodynamically or will not. As long as it will work aerodynamically or adds a feature to the device to make it work, then the sky is the limit. Continue reading Meet the patent attorney who made the drone that won ‘Shark Tank’ happen

Drone Girl profiles: Eileen Shipley, the woman who is mapping the Wild West with a drone

The next in our series of Drone Girl profiles is with Eileen Shibley, the founder of Monarch Inc.

Monarch just launched a project to aerially survey and 3D map the 19th-century mining town of Bodie, California, and original California Gold Rush town that was the vibrant gem of the Wild West and now is kept in a state of ‘arrested decay.’ Monarch used high precision UAVs to help preserve data about the historic town, using the company’s custom-built drone and 3D-printed gimbal.

Courtesy Monarch Inc.

Drone Girl: How did you get into drones?

Eileen Shibley: 5 or 7 years before I retired from defense, I was selected to run the unmanned systems division at the navy’s premiere manufacturing site for drone integration in defense. We worked with every size drone – from teeny ones to the Predator. That’s when I became aware that I had devoted my career to defense, but when I retired I truly wanted to make a difference. I thought, I know what these things are capable of.  I know these things can make a huge difference win the way we do things.

DG: And then?

ES: I led the California delegation to try to get California named as (one of the six drone) test sites. I was barely retired and I was asked to lead this delegation. I thought I should give something back since I’ve gotten so much from this community. When we weren’t selected, I figured, what am I going to do now?

DG: So now you’re mapping the old western town of Bodie.

ES: Bodie Stegosaurus Park — it was one of those thriving places in the 1880s. It became a huge thriving metropolis in no time at all. But now it’s old, it’s decaying. The state has made it a state park and they’re trying to preserve it. They put a request in to the FAA that Monarch be allowed to take our drone to Bodie and map it for them.

Courtesy Monarch Inc.
Courtesy Monarch Inc.

DG: So how did they find you? Continue reading Drone Girl profiles: Eileen Shipley, the woman who is mapping the Wild West with a drone

Drone Girl Profiles: Meet Natalie Welch, the female star of “Rotor DR1”

Here’s a “Drone Girl” with a different type of story. She stars in “Rotor DR1,” a film that portrays drones in a way that could really change the perspective on drones as a regular part of society. While she doesn’t fly drones herself, her acting has brought new life and new perspective to the industry.

Courtesy of Natalie Welch, Rotor DR1
Courtesy of Natalie Welch, Rotor DR1

17-year-old Natalie Welch is the leading female actress in “Rotor DR1,” the post-apocalyptic film following the lives of two teenagers who struggle to survive in a world mostly wiped out after a viral outbreak, but who survive, in part, because of a drone that leads them to an answer that could save the world.

Welch plays the role of Maya, a charismatic teenager who lost her parents to the virus. She plays a role of an aggressive, independent and even selfish young woman, while also serving as a strong, steady character throughout the film.

How did you get involved in the production of “Rotor DR1”?

Natalie: The process was a little different than most audition processes. My agent sent me a notification about the audition. As the team got more into it, they were debating on a few different directions to go with my character. They wanted to let the audience build the character I ended up playing, so they narrowed the search down to two girls.

Courtesy of Natalie Welch
Courtesy of Natalie Welch

Yeah, I had heard the big focus on this film was making it “community-collaborated.” Thousands of online community members developed the online series and weighed in on everything from wardrobe to storyline. (Read more on that here.)

Natalie: We both went down and filmed the same scene with Christian (the character’s lead, who plays Kitch). They had the community decide which one of us would play this character. My audition tape was broadcast to the world. It’s definitely different.

Before you got involved with “Rotor DR1,” what was your impression of drones? Continue reading Drone Girl Profiles: Meet Natalie Welch, the female star of “Rotor DR1”

Meet Abby Speicher, CEO of DARTdrones

DART Drones Promo Code: Use “dronegirl10” to save 10% on your next class. 

Women make up just 14.6% of executive officers nationwide. In Silicon Valley, women account for just 9% of executive positions in information technology, according to American Progress. But here’s one young woman who is not only a CEO, but making huge strides in drone education. Meet Abby Speicher, CEO of DARTdrones.

abby Speicher dart drones

Drone Girl: So from what I know about you, you seem to be a serial entrepreneur.

Abby Speicher: My family is very entrepreneurial; my dad is an entrepreneurship professor. I ended up starting a social enterprise where we made purses in Ghana; I started that when I was 17 and worked on it through college, where I realized that I loved running a company and learned how to pitch a product.

DG: Where do you go to school?

AS: I went to Babson College’s MBA in Entrepreneurship program.

DG: So what changed there?

AS: I was desperately looking for a new type of company to start. That’s when I met my cofounder (Chris Costello), who was at the Army National Guard for 30 years. He was in charge of missions using Raven drones. That’s when the two of us entered a business competition together.

DG: What were you pitching?

AS: We were pitching a general drone services company. At first we thought we would do all types of services involving drones — selling, repairs. We had a plan, but we didn’t have a business.

DG: So what happened?

AS: Well, I had never actually flown a drone until the pitch competition. I ordered a Phantom and I flew it in front of the judges; it was my second time ever flying it. It got out of control and went over the judges. Papers were flying everywhere. My dad was in the audience and tried to catch it. It was terrible. It almost crashed.

DG: Oh dear. Continue reading Meet Abby Speicher, CEO of DARTdrones

Meet Isabelle Nyroth: the world’s drone educator

_MG_7038I’ve crossed paths with Isabelle Nyroth a few separate times in the world of drones. Now it’s time to finally share a Q&A!

Nyroth has been integral to the education side of the drone community. She’s Swedish and is currently working for unmanned Experts in Colorado.

Drone Girl: How did you get into drones?
Isabelle Nyroth: It started a very long time ago. I got into drones because of my father mainly. My father took me out to the RC field as a child. I’ve always been around airplanes and RC helicopters. My dad was actually an engineer building and designing drones so as a kid, instead of drawing ponies during free time at school, I was drawing UAVs. I always felt like this is where I want to be. IT’s a revolutionary industry for technology and there’s so much room to grow, so I just decided this is what I’m going to pursue my career in.

DG: So what do you do now with drones?
IN: I do everything with drones! Everything from teaching other people to fly them — we teach courses with Unmanned Experts every month. We also do consultancy where people come to us and ask us, ‘is this possible? Can we do this?’ We also have services where we do missions for them, whether it’s mapping or precision ag. Everything is possible. We have a whole fleet of different copters and we can pretty much do any mission.

DG: So what do you fly?
IN: For training purposes, the Phantom is a great copter to practice on. It’s like the ABC of learning to fly a drone. We also have industrial spec drones like this $125,000 Aeryon SkyRanger.It’s performance is top notch. It never lets us down, and it obviously has a flight time of 50 minutes. There aren’t a lot of copters that can fly for that long. So that’s typically what we use when it’s down to business, when we actually have to get something done and it has to be done right. Whereas, the Phantom is good, but it’s not always the best. Continue reading Meet Isabelle Nyroth: the world’s drone educator

Meet one of the women behind Go Professional cases

If you’ve been to any drone event, you’ve probably seen a Go Professional case — maybe the hard shell DJI Inspire 1 case, or the backpack for the Phantom. The company makes cases for drones, GoPros and any customer orders. The company is known for talking with people about protecting copters and getting involved at different events.

Meet one of the women behind Go Professional Cases, whom we caught up with at International Drone Day in Las Vegas, Nevada, Customer Service Manager Julia Verduzco.

_MG_7160Drone Girl: How did you get into drones?

Julia Verduzco: I actually had a friend that needed help at GoProfessional Cases, when it was just open for maybe 6 months. The business was booming. They brought me in for data entry. A week later, I started building cases, getting involved learning about drones, accessories, customer service and traveling to different cities for shows.

DG: Did you know about drones before that?

JV: I knew about the RC hobby. My husband is into RC cars. I have RC cars, wheels and batteries all over my house. I knew about little drones you could buy at hobby stores.

But my eyes just blew up seeing these ones, like the Phantoms and then when the S1000 came out it just blew my mind. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know people that fly, and it’s just crazy.

DG: What’s it like being a woman in the drone industry?

JV: It is a male-dominated industry, but getting to know the women is great. We’re focusing on marketing and getting women involved with that, because we need to get more women involved in the industry.

DG: Why is it important to market to women in the drone industry?

JV: We want to show that drones are not just for men. It’s for women, it’s for children. For everybody, drones are good. They can save lives. Yes it’s fun, and yes it’s a toy, but we want it to be that drones are going to be needed in the future.

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Pix4D’s Sonja Betschart on mapping Christ and girl power

Last week we wrote about Pix4D’s successful attempt at creating the first high resolution, 3D model of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janerio, said to be Brazil’s most important monument.

It’s a seemingly impossible project, but they did it. This week, we caught up with one of the project teammates, Sonja Betschart who also happens to be Pix4D’s Chief Marketing Officer.

Sonja on a Drone Adventures mission
Sonja on a Drone Adventures mission

Drone Girl: How did you get involved in the Rio project?
Sonja Betschart: I got contacted in early 2014 by a professor, Celso Santos, of the 3D lab of PUC University in Rio through DroneAdventures. The lab had been looking into how to get an accurate 3D model of the statue for over 15 years, including using laser scanners to do so. The project was just never feasible when it came to getting both results for the whole statue and affordable technology. When the professor saw one of our projects (mapping the Matterhorn in Switzerland with drones and Pix4D software), he hoped that this new technology would allow him to finally transform his dream into reality.

DG: What was the most challenging part in planning the project?
SB: The huge amount of data acquisition, which needed to be done in a very specific way with special hardware. Although DroneAdventures would have loved to do the project, they lacked the hardware and believed that Pix4D might be a better fit because of its specialization in this kind of data acquisition. We knew that we were in for an “all-around challenge” when it took us over 9 months just to get the approval to fly a drone on the heritage site, which belongs to the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro.

Photo: Pix4D and Aeryon Labs
Photo: Pix4D and Aeryon Labs

DG: Why did it take 9 months to get approval?

SB: Flying drones is always tied with local legislation. To fly a drone in Brazil, one needs approval from the local government. The local government would only give us the necessary permission to fly our drone if the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, to whom the site of the Christ the Redeemer statue belongs, also gave us permission from their side.

DG: What was it like once you were actually on site?

SB: Amazing and very emotional! When you plan such a unique project for over 9 months and are in contact with the local partners without knowing them in person, it was a very emotional day when we finally met in person and came all together at the base of the Christ statue, to do our “onsite reconnaissance” on the first day. We were all overly excited, but also felt that this was only the beginning of our adventure. We had planned out the whole mission in detail over the previous months and being on site confirmed once more that you can plan all you want, in the end, plans will change and possibly many things will not go according to plan.

DG: And how was the wind up there?

Continue reading Pix4D’s Sonja Betschart on mapping Christ and girl power

Florida high school offers “Drone Team Pink” UAV program

After the closing school bell at Choctawhatchee High School rings, the track team whizzes by the field. Overhead, something’s whirring.

It’s a drone, and it’s being operated by someone like 16-year-old sophomore Dharbi Jens or 17-year-old senior Jojo Parrett.

“My friends on the track team run by and see us flying and say, ‘wow, can I give it a go?’”, Jens said. “I think they’re pretty jealous.”

Photo courtesy of Sean McSheehy
Photo courtesy of Sean McSheehy

It’s something any adult who has a drone now would be jealous of: Choctawhatchee High School has its own drone team called Drone Team Pink.

The high school is one of a handful in the nation that offers private pilot training, engineering, and aviation legislation and regulation.

The group is led by Sean McSheehy, who teaches an Intro to Aviation course for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Worldwide at the Fort Walton, Florida high school, which allows high school students to get college credit. Drone Team Pink meets for about two hours once a week and is specifically focused on getting young women involved in STEM education while providing opportunities for students of all levels to fly drones.

“Women aren’t really represented in the STEM field,” Jens said. “We had a 3D printer in our school, and it’s just so fun flying drones.”

Some of the students were involved in 3D printing process, and they fly drones down at the soccer field with McSheehy.

“It’s a lot of hands-on work,” Jens said.

Senior Dana Heintzelman, 18, was involved in the 3D printing process.

“In our engineering department, we have 3D printers. You need to have a model and all the dimensions of what you’re trying to print,” she said. “A prop guard for DJI took about 2.5 hours.”

Oh, and the airframes were made using pink filament. Continue reading Florida high school offers “Drone Team Pink” UAV program