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.

Related posts:

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.

Shop burns down after suspected Lipo fire

xQK1NWibx6qEl-2lxBEt0ZM451t6W3jfJzUcjGu5dl8Weeks after a fire broke and swiftly wiped out a 30+ year old San Diego RC Business, owner Jim Bonnardel is still moving forward.

An expert in the RC industry for years, Bonnardel was charging Lipo batteries for his drones to use at an event.

“All of my freshly charged batteries were in a neat little row,” he said. “I was charging them in a ceramic pot that I had been using for years.”

That’s when he went inside his house briefly to get a cup of hot chocolate. As he headed back out, he heard his son yell “Dad, the shop is on fire!”

The fire department was on the scene at about 10:45 p.m. By that time, it had already spread like wildfire.

“When they arrived, on scene, the first thing I let them know was what was up there — batteries and cables,” he said.

The fire department has not determined an official cause, but Bonnardel suspects it was a LiPo fire.

For years, lithium polymer batteries (LiPos) have been known to be dangerous and unpredictable. Dropping, denting or crushing can shorten the life of the battery and even cause an internal short — a recipe for fire. There are a myriad of guidelines for storing, charging and transporting them.

“A battery with little charge will smoke a bit,” Bonnardel said. “A fully charged battery will burst into flames.”

But Bonnardel, having been an RC pilot for 30 years, is among the safest and most cautious of Lipo owners.

“I never expected this to happen,” he said. “I considered myself safe in all my practices.”
He says he suspects he must have charged a battery that already had a full charge. He also said he doesn’t believe it was brand-specific.

“I’m hanging in there,” he said. “It makes you sad when you have to dig through ruble.”

But he is optimistic, using this as an opportunity to educate other drone and RC operators.

“My goal here is I’m just as motivated to get other people to not be complacent and not let their guard down either,” he said.

And Bonnardel is not a novice in the education field. He does non-profit community outreach events involving technology and drones. He participates in SWARM. He holds contests. He works to get young people interested in STEM.

“We’re seeing a huge influx in the demographic of young people getting involved,” he said.

In fact, that’s the very reason he managed to salvage many of his drones. Continue reading Shop burns down after suspected Lipo fire

LiPo battery may have caused RC shop fire

RC pilot Jim Bonnardel has been flying Radio Control aircraft since he was seven-years-old. He’s president of the Silent Electric Flyers of San Diego and owner of Radio Control Specialties.

And on Jan. 16, he watched the shop burn down.

Bonnardel says he suspects it was a LiPo fire,  noting that he was charging a bank of batteries and was on the last one when he stepped away for about 10 minutes.

For years, lithium polymer batteries (LiPos) have gotten a bad rap for being dangerous and unpredictable. Dropping, denting or crushing can shorten the life of the battery and even cause an internal short — a recipe for fire. There are a myriad of guidelines for storing, charging and transporting them.

But for even a highly experienced pilot like Bonnardel, the slightest misstep can cause extreme danger.

So why don’t we just use alkaline batteries — your standard Duracell or Energizer?

“An alkaline battery has much more power than a lithium ion, but it cannot deliver heavy loads,” said Isidor Buchmann, founder and CEO of Cadex Electronics.  “Something like an AA battery is an energy cell, not a power cell. It simply cannot deliver the power needed.”

A drone needs a battery that can handle higher currents. LiPos are power cell batteries, mean they can deliver a lot of energy in a short amount of time. Your standard kitchen clock battery delivers a small amount of power over a long period of time.

“It’s like how a bottle with a bigger mouth can pour out a lot of water more quickly than water with a smaller mouth,” Buchmann said.

John Salt, creator of RC Helicopter Fun, put that amount of energy into perspective.

“Some of my big LiPo packs that I use in some of my largest RC helicopters have as much energy potential stored in them as a couple cups or so of gasoline,” he said. “Get a dozen or so LiPo’s on your work bench and you essentially have a jerry can of gas sitting there from a potential energy standpoint.”

That’s not to say Lithium-ion batteries are not safe.

“Lithium-ion is safe under the right circumstances, but they need to be properly designed and approved,” Buchmann said.

Salt chalks it up to an educational problem.

“LiPo power is just as safe or dangerous as any other high energy fuel source and has to be treated that way,” Salt said.

By that, he recommends storying them in fire safe containers and in safe locations just like fuel.

“Is this “LiPo education” up to the battery manufactures, RC aircraft manufactures, or the individuals flying and using them? I would say all three,” he said.

But there’s one more solution, and DJI, creator of the popular DJI Phantom series of quadcopters, holds the patent to it.

Shortly after the launch of the original Phantom, developers with DJI wanted to ensure that consumers with less experience with soft pack batteries would be able to use them.

“We knew it would be a game changer because it further lowered the barrier for first time pilots interested in quads,” said DJI spokesperson Michael Perry.

Development on the Smart Battery for the Phantom II line of drones began in April 2013.

The Smart Battery’s are also LiPo batteries, with a capacity of 5200 mAh and voltage of 11.1 V. Power management is handled internally, meaning no balance connector is required to charge.

The one major criticism Phantom II users have? The price.

DJI smart batteries cost about $130, in comparison to the $20 LiPo batteries sold on DJI’s site (and often found cheaper on hobby sites).

“We cannot say for now if the price will drop. Part of the reason that the batteries are priced higher than normal LiPos is that all the smart features requires additional hardware (not just the LEDs, but circuitry), software and testing costs,” Perry said. “We feel that the intelligent features that people get out of these batteries corresponds fairly to the price differential with typical batteries.”

And that’s not to say that the DJI Smart Batteries are 100% foolproof.

“Heat is a big enemy of all Lithium battery chemistries, so even a DJI smart pack could be damaged by letting it sit inside a closed vehicle on a hot sunny day for instance,” Salt said. “Chances are it would never start on fire, but there is still some risk there – especially if it’s fully charged.”

Company that makes ‘White House drone’ doesn’t want you flying in D.C. at all

The following piece is an excerpt of a story I wrote for MarketWatch. Read the full story here.

The company that manufactures the drone that crashed on the South Lawn on Monday doesn’t want you to fly drones anywhere close to the White House.

DJI announced plans today to release a mandatory firmware update for its Phantom 2 line of drones that would prevent them from flying within a 15.5-mile radius of downtown Washington, D.C.

“The updated firmware (V3.10) will be released in coming days and adds a No-Fly Zone centered on downtown Washington, D.C. and extends for a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) radius in all directions,” a news release from DJI stated. “Phantom pilots in this area will not be able to take off from or fly into this airspace.”

DJI’s update helps drone users comply with an FAA notice, which restricts unmanned flight around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

The news comes in the wake of reports that a government employee in D.C. was flying a DJI Phantom at 3 a.m. on Monday and lost control of it, causing the drone tofly onto White House property and crash.

“Some people may not realize how close they are to an airport or other sensitive locations,” said Brendan Schulman, head of commercial drone law at the law firm Kramer Levin. “This [update from DJI] is useful in preventing newcomers from flying in places that would be objectionable.”

But a lot of drone users question whether DJI’s move is necessary.

“Most people are flying at schools and parks, and they aren’t flying any type of large-size aircraft,” said Dale Jones, founder of RCFlyMaps, an iPhone app that uses real time data to tell drone users where they can and can’t fly. “Does that FAA ban relate to tiny little hobby aircraft? I’m not sure.”

The no-drone zone includes the University of Maryland Campus, Virginia’s Lake Barcroft and Little Falls Park in Bethesda, Maryland.

Read the rest of this story on MarketWatch.com.