In Her Own Words – 2017 Women to Watch in UAS Winners

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Yesterday Drone360 and WomenandDrones announced this year’s winners of the Women to Watch in UAS award. As another woman in the drone industry, I was keen to hear from these remarkable women myself, and learn a little bit of the backstory of each one. Seven of the nine winners responded to my request, and I am inspired by each one on their dedication, persistence, and ambition to make the world a better place through their efforts and hard work.

Learn about these remarkable women for yourself!

 

Holly Kasun (U.S.A.)

How did you get into drones?

I got into drones by pure luck!  When Flybrix started, my two (now) business partners were working on an autonomous drone product.  They asked me to help with their pitch deck to raise funding to pursue their idea.  I took one look at what they were doing, and I said I wanted to be a part of the company.  The rest is history!

What dreams do you have for the future of the drone industry? How do you hope to contribute?

The drone industry is so new and there is so much development and learning about drones that is incredibly exciting.  I believe drones will be a part of our every day lives making them safer and more convenient.

I hope to provide the most fun, approachable and in-depth platform (Flybrix)  for people of all ages to understand how drones work.  Once people understand not only the fundamentals, future research and development can be done on our platform.   My hope is that having more people with an interest in any of the number of aspects to be explored with drones will spur quicker development to move the entire industry forward.  Having millions of people with the ability to develop their own ideas about how drones can be used and having a way for them to see their ideas come to life is my goal.

What advice or words of inspiration do you have for other women in the drone industry?

Women think differently about how to solve problems using technology as well as the types of problems they want to solve with technology.  That inevitably will happen with drones!  This is a really useful thing for the industry as a whole.  For all the young women out there who find drones interesting, pursue your curiosity! That’s how you end up in a career you love.

Mary Wohnrade (U.S.A.)

How did you get into drones?

My initial interest in aviation began in 1983 when I received my private pilot certification at the age of 22.  With this as my impetus, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) came as a natural extension of my love of aviation.  Drawing on this passion, I purchased my first drone in March 2015, initially for marketing purposes.  A UAS was ideal for capturing high-resolution aerial photographs and 4k videography to showcase our larger civil engineering projects.  They were also a lot of fun to fly.

It wasn’t long before I realized the incredible potential UAS technology had to offer, and the many benefits it could bring to the civil engineering and surveying professions, as well as to my own civil engineering firm, Wohnrade Civil Engineers, Inc. (WCE).  I soon discovered that UAS provided an efficient way to collect topographic data on a large scale, which when processed correctly, can produce precision geospatial mapping that I could use to enhance my civil engineering design workflow.

After many months of research and development, I successfully developed a very technical workflow that integrates UAS technology into civil engineering design.  WCE is at the forefront in both the development of precision aerial mapping, and incorporating UAS data into civil engineering design.

What dreams do you have for the future of the drone industry? How do you hope to contribute?

Since purchasing my first drone in 2015, I have been striving to accomplish several goals related to UAS technology and the industry.

First, I want to remain at the forefront of developing precision aerial topographic mapping, and incorporating that mapping into final civil engineering design.  My goal is to prepare the most accurate data possible using the latest advances in UAS technology, and to continuously improve the accuracy of our geospatial mapping products.

Secondly, as a corporate member of UAS Colorado and active member of the Rocky Mountain UAS Professionals, I will continue to promote collaboration with my fellow members in an open exchange of ideas and solutions.  UAS professionals in Colorado are working together in a collaborative effort across multiple disciplines to advance UAS technology to benefit society.  Although we may be competitors, there is a sense of camaraderie amongst our local membership.

In addition, I would like to expand our capabilities to meet the needs of my fellow engineers, scientists, and researchers.  We’ve had an ever increasing number of inquiries from professionals looking to UAS technology as a means for gathering various types of data, which will enhance their professional workflows.

Lastly, I will continue to advance the UAS industry by enthusiastically promoting UAS to local and regional audiences.  To date, we have performed several demonstrations for multiple organizations throughout Colorado, including the National Park Service and other federal agencies.  I am also interested in performing UAS demonstrations at local middle schools this fall to expose young STEM students to UAS technology.

What advice or words of inspiration do you have for other women in the drone industry?

When I began my studies in civil engineering in 1984, few women were pursuing degrees in STEM related fields.  While much has changed since I became a professional engineer, women are still underrepresented in STEM.  However, I am encouraged by the ever increasing number of women entering the drone industry, and my success is a good example of the possibilities for women.  The sky is the limit when it comes to opportunities for women to take on a leading role in the UAS industry.

My advice to other women that are interested in a profession in the UAS industry is, explore your passion and believe in yourself.

 

Karen Joyce (Australia) 

How did you get into drones?

I’ve used satellite images to map and monitor the environment for nearly 20 years. But sometimes they just don’t provide the level of detail I need. Working in regional Australia means that it’s far too expensive to commission a standard aerial survey, so I started using drones instead.

What dreams do you have for the future of the drone industry? How do you hope to contribute?

I’m excited to see the industry becoming more diverse and inclusive. I want to help inspire and train the next generation of scientists to have geospatial and technical skills using drones.

What advice or words of inspiration do you have for other women in the drone industry?

You can choose to shy away from something if you feel you’re in the minority, or you can choose to build it so it’s no longer a minority.

 

Lexie Janson (Poland) 

How did you get into drones?

Well I was always a gamer, so when someone showed me a “real-life” game that’s more expensive and more dangerous – I had to get in 🙂 This is why I went for drones, and then to FPV Racing 🙂

What dreams do you have for the future of the drone industry? How do you hope to contribute?

My biggest dreams are:
– Same laws in every country (or similar ones). So licensed pilots can fly where ever they want.
– “Smile more worry less” – Lots of “professional” facebook drone groups tend to be overly dramatic. Why can’t we just share our hobby/work and be nice to each other?

I would also love to take my part in getting more female pilots into this industry. Not only drones in general, but to FPV racing, because this is a really awesome thing, and the community is the best that ever happened to me. I would like to share it with everyone 🙂

What advice or words of inspiration do you have for other women in the drone industry?

Never take anything for granted. And never let anyone tell You what You can or can’t do. It doesn’t matter what Your sex, age, nationality or whatever is – tell those haters “I can, and I will… watch me”.

Also if You need help – Find Yourself a mentor 🙂 I am always happy to help others and I am almost sure that lots of other people do too!

Catherine Ball (Australia) 

How did you get into drones?

I first fell in love with the imagery that drones are able to capture, and how that could improve our environmental monitoring methodology, back in 2013 when working on a world-first project in Western Australia.  I then investigated a bit more and realised that there was a huge niche that was not being filled by industry nor government nor academia. I was then promoted to operate a drone business line for an environmental and engineering consultancy in Australia- this work led to me really expanding my knowledge of the full ecosystem that surrounds drone technology for industrial applications and I really enjoyed the challenge of taking an emerging commercial technical application and applying it to the real world, and real business.

What dreams do you have for the future of the drone industry? How do you hope to contribute?

I’m really passionate about the use of drones for humanitarian and emergency response.  Drones come in all shapes and sizes and I hope to help guide the industry by initiating and supporting conversations about problems that are looking for a drone solution, rather than the current culture which seems to be solutions looking for the problems.  The drone industry will do best if it tailors solutions and evolves according to areas that have ‘wicked problems’ we need to solve.  Then we have to guide the rest of ecosystem through the legal, health and safety, and ethical issues around drone usage.

What advice or words of inspiration do you have for other women in the drone industry?

I live my values and probably use the hashtag #BeTheChange far too often, but I really believe it is the only way to work.  When I was implementing changes and supporting trials I had to put in a lot of extra effort and time; the key is to remember it will be worth it. Those that succeed in implementing change are those that ‘hold on for a little bit longer’. Don’t give up on your ideas, and feel free to reach out to the rest of us, we are all here to help support each other as we face an uphill battle to diversify the drone industry globally.

 

Helena Samsioe (Sweden) 

How did you get into drones?

I’ve had a passion for drones for filming and photography for many years, but it was when I was visiting Kenya a few years ago and reflected over the airplanes used as air ambulances that I thought of the potential of drones as mini ambulances but for emergency medical cargo deliveries. I started to look into it more and Doctors Without Borders had just conducted a trial with drones in Papua New Guinea (early 2014) and I saw several potentials going forward. A year later I decided I was going to go for it – I’m going to try to create a drone service company providing drone services for a healthier planet. Since then we have conducted several drone projects in the humanitarian sector and are currently working with UNICEF in Malawi among others.

What dreams do you have for the future of the drone industry? How do you hope to contribute?

There are so many ways that drones can contribute in making this planet a better one, not least in countries with poor infrastructure on the ground or countries that suffer from natural disasters where drones can be a crucial instrument to guide emergency response teams on the ground. I hope to contribute by making drone services in the health and humanitarian sector more widely available and by continue finding new innovative ways to use them while creating a better planet at the same time.

What advice or words of inspiration do you have for other women in the drone industry?

Just go out there and grab your piece of a blooming industry! This is really an industry where the sky is the limit.

Gretchen West (U.S.A.) 

How did you get into drones?

My career started in non-profit management across a variety of different industries – from healthcare to technology. After earning my MBA with plans to enter the corporate world, I was drawn back to non-profit management and purely by chance found myself at AUVSI working for the executive director who was a former colleague at another association.  At the time, I (and most of the rest of the world) did not know what an unmanned system was, but I quickly learned and fell in love with the industry. When I started nearly 14 years ago, most of our focus was on military technologies, but then expanded to civil and commercial use as well. I eventually moved to California to be closer to the development of much of the commercial drone technology and now am a Senior Advisor at Hogan Lovells focusing on policy and regulatory development for the drone community as well as providing strategic and business support to companies in this market.  I also serve as the co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, which is a non-profit that works to reduce the barriers to entry for commercial end users and help them understand the value of drone technology.  And finally, I’m a co-founder of the Women of Commercial Drones organization which is developing programs for women in the commercial drone market and technology in general through mentorship, STEM activities, and educational support. Being at the forefront of much of the activity in this industry and being part of its growth and development has been a true honor and I can’t imagine being part of any other community.

What dreams do you have for the future of the drone industry? How do you hope to contribute?

While there are still many hurdles in front of us to realize the true potential of drone use for many commercial enterprise industries, I’m optimistic about the future of this market. We continue to see interesting and new use cases, passionate end users, responsible operators and a growing business community for drones and my dream is to help make this industry not only possible, but inevitable.  The work that I’ve accomplished over the last decade and with my team, has led to creating a more positive framework and foundation for advancing this technology. There is much more I, my team and the community needs to do to come together to make this industry successful, but we’re making progress, albeit slowly at times!  One day we will have packages delivered to our homes.  One day we will have an airspace management system enabling safe operations. One day we will have appropriate rules to allow for advanced and expanded operations. My goal and dream is to help get us there, and I’m confident we will accomplish our goals.

What advice or words of inspiration do you have for other women in the drone industry?

Having been in this industry over a decade, I’ve seen a positive shift from being one of a few women advancing drone and other unmanned technologies to being one of many women, and I’m proud to be part of this growing network. I encourage women with a passion for drones to get more involved, specifically with groups like our Women of Commercial Drones organization, but also with many of the networking events that take place focused on supporting women in this community.  I encourage women to take the leap and go after jobs in this industry that traditionally seemed to be held by men.  I encourage women to find other women in this community, look for mentors, become a mentor and support each other.  I encourage women to encourage their companies (if not done so already) to create programs for women internally to help with advancement and opportunity.  I encourage women to keep doing the amazing work they do to help shape this industry in a positive way. The drone community is a small part of the broader technology community which is rife with negative stories about the lack of women in leadership roles or negative and demeaning behaviors towards women, but we can all be a part of a solution. We need to work together, support each other, share opportunities with each other and ultimately change the narrative together.

 

Congratulations once again to each of these remarkable women, and also to Natalie Cheung and Leah La Salla, on being chosen for this year’s Women to Watch in UAS award! We here at Droneblog are incredibly proud of you!

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