Category Archives: Drone Girl Profiles

Meet Helen Greiner: robot enthusiast, CEO of CyPhy Works and CoFounder of iRobot

Do you have a Roomba roaming around your house? Thank Helen Greiner, cofounder of iRobt and CEO of CyPhy Works. Her list of accolades is seemingly endless. From her bio on CyPhy Works:

She has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in computer science from MIT. She was named by the Kennedy School at Harvard in conjunction with the U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Leaders.  She has also been honored as a Technology Review Magazine “Innovator for the Next Century” and has been awarded theDEMO God Award and DEMO Lifetime Achievement Award. She was named one of the Ernst and Young New England Entrepreneurs of the Year, invited to the World Economic Forum as a Global Leader of Tomorrow and Young Global Leader, and has been inducted in the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame.

That’s just a snippet of her many awards. We could go on, but we would be going on a long time. Instead, we’ve brought you an interview with one of the most influential people in the drone world, Helen Greiner.

Drone Girl: You’ve said in the past that your love of robots started with R2D2. He was your role model?
Helen Greiner: It’s more of an inspiration or a muse, than a role model.

DG: Who were your role models when you first got into robotics?
HG: I always respected academic role models. At the time they were mostly all men, and that’s changed over time which is great. It was a bit different when I was in school in the 80s and 90s.

DG: Were those role models at MIT?
HG: I went to MIT because I saw a robotics competition on the Discovery Channel called 2.70. It’s now used in high schools across the country. It’s been so successful in inspiring kids to go into STEM.

DG: So you’ve obviously been in the robotics field for a long time. You created the Roomba among other things. But at what point did you decide you were going to go from ground robots to drones?
HG: I did iRobot for 18 years. We built some of the best ground robots. Back in the 90s, we said, “let’s not do drones because it’s a crowded field.” Well of course, now it’s an even more crowded field. But I started thinking about what to do next. I was always jealous of drones because they essentially cheat. There’s all kinds of stuff on the ground that ground robots need to avoid or step over. In the air, there is so much more free space. There are no tables or chairs to run into. Once you get above the tree-level, there is really nothing else there. It’s an ideal space for robots to operate.

DG: But with drones, you have other problems that you don’t have with ground robots. You have to worry about battery life, which currently tops out around 25 minutes to power a flying robot in the air. Though, it seems like you have solved it through the microfilament technology you created.
HG: We’ve certainly solved it for the applications that we are working on. We’ve created the PARC system. You can fly it for weeks at a time.
It is for people that are interested in monitoring their own facility, rather than someone else’s. Another drone we are building is called the Pocket Flyer. It can go a few hundred feet and into tunnels and buildings. Without a cable, you really lose communications when you go into buildings. This solves that problem.

DG: Going back to the “Drone Girl” topic, what has your experience been being a female in the drone industry?
HG: When I was younger, it was a double-edged sword. I would go to meetings and be the only woman there, which some people might take as a negative. But you can use it as a positive. People would remember me and say, “well, that’s the robot lady.” I’ve always felt welcome in the industry.

DG: Your company, CyPhy Works is interesting in that the majority of the leadership on your team is female.
HG: It wasn’t by design. The best qualified candidates happened to be female. As long as companies are looking for the best people, it doesn’t matter, male or female. We don’t go out of our way to hire women. It’s just, these are the people who applied and are the best qualified.

DG: What advice do you have for people, especially young women, getting into robotics? Continue reading Meet Helen Greiner: robot enthusiast, CEO of CyPhy Works and CoFounder of iRobot

Meet Rhianna Lakin, founder of the Droneharts

This is the first in a series of Q&As with other “Drone Girls” — in other words, incredible women who are doing great things in the world with drones.

Today’s interview is with Rhianna Lakin, found of the Amelia Dronehart RC Copter Group, a closed Facebook group for women interested in drones. You can request to join the group here

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Photo courtesy Amelia Dronehart RC Copter Group

Drone Girl: Why did you start the Amelia Dronehart RC Copter Group?

Rhianna Lakin: I used to work for a DJI dealer; I worked there prior to the launch of the Phantom series, when it was just the S800, flight controllers and Flame Wheel series. When they launched the Phantom, I noticed I had a few female customers. Then I started noticing a few more ladies popping up. I thought, if I have a few customers, then I thought, ‘well gosh there have to be more out there.

DG: What was your intent with the group?

RL: I knew where the drone industry was going to go. I wanted to show a softer side of it because the media would not show the softer side…no matter what you were doing with drones.

DG: So you created an Internet community for women?

RL: My goal was to start the group and bring women together so they could ask questions. I just got really tired of the forums this caveman mentality.

DG: Do you find it hard for a woman interested in, but new to drones, to find a place where she can fit in and ask questions about her drone?

Rhianna Lakin and her daughter at the DJI new pilot training in Seattle. Photo courtesy Rhianna Lakin.

RL: Absolutely. Our women’s group, we don’t have bashing over questions, we don’t have that intimidation factor. It’s more supportive group. I just got really tired of the forums — this caveman mentality. I am still on other forums but certainly, the Droneharts is something different. My goal was to bring women together of all ages and skillets.

DG: How did you get into drones?

RL: I spent the last 14-15 years between here and Asia, specifically Indonesia. While I was there, I experienced several natural disasters. I was there for the 2004 tsunami. I participated in a lot of relief efforts because I speak the language. I was there during a flash flood due to illegal logging which wiped out the village I lived in. I lost a lot of friends. There was a big search and rescue mission to find people under the logs. I knew the people that ran the company out of Portland and I thought, ‘if they could use this for aerial video why can’t they use this for search and rescue?’ Of course, I didn’t realize that was already being done.

DG: Wow, you are super accomplished in what you’ve already been doing with drones, and you’ve been doing it for years.

RL: I use them for good, search and rescue, humanitarian relief, agriculture.

DG: How did you come up with the idea of the name Droneharts?

RL: I realized we could call them anything else, (such as UAVs or UASs) but the media is still going to refer to them as a drones. If I do a search and rescue mission and I call it a drone, then suddenly that sets a positive connotation with the word “drone.”

DG: So what’s in your future?

RL: In May or June I’ll go back to Indonesia and hopefully be able to expose the deforestation and atrocities that are happening there.

DG: And what about the future of the Droneharts?

RL: It’s been so exciting to have all of you ladies jump on board. 2015 is going to be a big deal for those of us in the industry who want to make a difference. There need to be more women out there to bring awareness. My goal is to get exposure for any women that want that exposure and want to make a name for themselves. That’s another goal of mine, to promote the women within the group.

DG: How will you do that?

RL: One of my big goals is my attempt is to have a website built that will have bios of any women that want there bio there and links to all of you. There’s currently only a closed Facebook group for us. My goal is to get bios for all of you that want it and put it on the website so we can get support from outsiders and be noticed for the achievements of what you’re doing. I’m trying to collaborate between all of us, and many of us are doing really great things. Whoever wants to be involved can. A lot of us see this as a new industry. It’s one we can make a name in, make change in.

Are you, or do you know, a stellar Drone Girl I should profile? Contact me here.