Category Archives: Drone Girl Profiles

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

Meet one of the world’s first aerial cinematographers: Leisa Adkins

The next in our Women in Drones series, Leisa Adkins of Perfect Perspectives. The Ohio-based aerial video company provides 6K UDH Red Epic Dragon aerial video for feature films and TV programs. The company is one of the world’s first RC helicopter filming or aerial video companies with the unmanned payload capacity and experience to safely carry high-definition UDH digital cinematography cameras. In fact, they’ve been carrying 8-10 pound cameras through the year since 2005.

Photo courtesy Leisa Adkins
Photo courtesy Leisa Adkins

Drone Girl: Wow, you’ve been in carrying cinematography cameras through the air since 2005?

Leisa Adkins: We put our first camera on a helicopter in 2004. It did okay but was nitro powered so it was hard to keep smoke out of the shots. We quickly bought a big gas powered helicopter to resolve the smoke problem. We then started shooting music videos, golf courses and TV commercials using a 7 lb. Panasonic HV200 camera. The whole rig was very heavy and weighed 36 lbs. but was very reliable and stable in the wind. I wanted to start the business much sooner but it was just about impossible at the time to get liability or hull insurance for a drone.

DG: When did you first get into RC then?

LA: Back in the early 80’s, one (of my friends) was using an RC helicopter and a fixed 35mm camera to take photos of celebrity homes in Miami for the National Enquirer. Another did something similar by taking photos of vacation homes in Canada. Neither one could see what the camera was pointed at in the air and just shot away hoping to get anything. My family has been heavily involved in RC helicopters for over 35 years now. Both flying in, and organizing events and competitions.

DG: So drones are a family affair for you?

LA: We started the XFC Extreme Flight Championships, for example, with a couple of our friends. In 1993 my husband, Wendell, and I, along with our two daughters helped the United States Team win an FAI-F3C Helicopter World Championship in Velden, Austria. Wendell flew and I was the mechanic/caller. Later in 1998, Wendell flew an animatronic bird from one of our helicopters in Sharon Stone’s movie “The Mighty”.

DG: So you’ve been in this a long time. What changes have you noticed in the industry, even in the past year?

LA: Low cost GPS autopilots and multicopters. The first autopilot we looked at cost $20,000 and we couldn’t justify or afford it. When we started, the only people doing really good work all had top notch pilots, mechanics and designers. Today these skills are becoming less and less necessary to do the job. I remember seeing that first video of DJI’s Ace One GPS and thought, ‘wow, this is really going to change things!’

Another big change is most all early drone companies were all very focused on safety. I think this was because they grew up flying under the AMA safety code and so were conditioned to never fly over people and crowds.

DG: Safety is huge! What do you think about the general public’s current approach to drone safety? Continue reading Meet one of the world’s first aerial cinematographers: Leisa Adkins

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.