#008 – Drones for Whale Snot, Education, and… Women? with Sally French, The Drone Girl

In Podcast by Ian Smith


Sally French (aka The Drone Girl) sits down with Ian to discuss important issues in the drone industry. From teaching how to use drones in schools, whale snot, drone industry projections, and the unfortunate lack of females in the industry, Sally sets the record straight—drones, like women, are here to stay.


#008 – Drones for Whale Snot, Education, and… Women? with Sally French, The Drone Girl

[00:00:03] [Introduction]: Welcome to Commercial Drones.FM.The podcast that explores the commercial drone industry. The people who power it and the concepts that drive it. I’m your host Ian Smith.

[00:00:15] IAN SMITH: Hey everybody welcome to Commercial Drones.FM, today we have a really really cool guest. We’ve got Sally French aka the drone girls so we’re here in San Francisco the heart of the commercial drone industry. Welcome to the show Sally.

[00:00:30] SALLY FRENCH: Hey thanks for having me.

[00:00:31] IAN:Thank you very much for being here. So we’re going to talk a little bit about drones your experience. I have my first question I’d like to start off number one. Are you French?

[00:00:41] SALLY: Ooh. I get asked that a lot. No but I actually was a German major as my second major in college.

[00:00:47] IAN:Oh ok alright.

[00:00:47] SALLY: Lets do this podcast in English.

[00:00:49] IAN: No problem I won’t have any issues with doing that. So it’s kind of the theme. So we had Kevin Spain on the show. Unfortunately he’s not Spanish and you’re not French. So it’s becoming a theme now.

[00:01:00] SALLY: Ooh. I have a friend whose last name is England.

[00:01:02] SALLY: We can put her on the show.

[00:01:05] IAN: Is he English? Oh she OK.

[00:01:06] SALLY: Yeah I guess speaks English. Does that count?

[00:01:08] IAN: That does count, we can do that show in English as well. Awesome. OK. So now that that’s out of the way so yeah you’re Sally French You’re the Drone Girl. What is the Drone Girl?

[00:01:18] SALLY: The drone girl is a site that I created three years ago now. And it’s a blog about drones. We just launched our first episode in a video series also. So it’s pretty much just me exploring the drone industry. I learn new things every day. So I wanted to share that with you guys.

[00:01:36] IAN: That’s awesome. Cool, cool. So you’ve reviewed some drones before. And this was affiliated with the drone girl. What kind of criteria do you focus on so. Well first of all which drones did you review or you proved the Phantom.

[00:01:50] SALLY: I have reviewed a lot. The Unique Flying I’ve reviewed a lot of their stuff most recently. Their Q500 and just reviewed Autel’s drone the reviews not out yet though so that’s coming soon.

[00:02:04] IAN: Is that a quadcopter?

[00:02:05] SALLU: Yeah it’s auto’s X star. It looks a lot like the phantom it’s orange though.

[00:02:11] IAN: Ahh I know what you’re talking about.

[00:02:12] SALLY: Yeah, I reviewed the Phantom I reviewed a really cool racing drone the Blade Nano QX. That was pretty fine. I got the fat shark goggles to go with it. That was probably the most fun I had doing a review.

[00:02:23] IAN: So what kind of criteria do you focus on whenever you do these reviews?

[00:02:28] SARAH: That is a good question I think. I mean obviously functionality is the most important but also I think ease of use is something that I really care about. I remember when I first got into drones there was no such thing as a ready to fly phantom. So I first flew a flame wheel which was just crazy to put together.

[00:02:49] IAN: The DJI.

[00:02:49] SALLY:Oh yeah. And adding the GoPro with just knots and a gimbal wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary. And so now I usually tend to favor drones that anyone can fly without you know a ton of effort. And then of course safety is really important. I like the drones that have geofencing on them. I mean nobody ever reads the manual. I don’t know. Do you read the manual?

[00:03:14] IAN:Yeah. Sometimes yeah, you gotta make sure that you try.

[00:03:18] SALLY: So I feel like I don’t read the manual which is too bad because my friend actually writes manuals. And so. So I admit I don’t read them so making it as easy to fly the drone as possible even for people who don’t read the manual I think is really important.

[00:03:33] IAN: I agree that that’s a very good sign of a nice drone especially in this day and age. Speaking of geofencing Yeah I think DJI just released their geo Geo. Well it’s just called Geo DJI Geo out of beta officially So that’s going to be pretty cool I think for people that might have been having problems that were trying to operate with permission near airports or you know in controlled airspace where normally the DJI app would just lock them out. So now I think what you can put your credit card details in and then you’ll get like permission to do it or something.

[00:04:06] SALLY: Yeah exactly and that’s a pretty good use case. I’ve heard a lot of people saying well I’m a teacher and our classroom is a mile from the airport. And so this you know allows them to contact the Air Traffic Control Center and then put in their credit card and still be able to take off and teach in class.

[00:04:23] IAN: Cool. Yeah and actually the credit cards is not to just charge them the credit cards just to kind of hold someone accountable.

[00:04:29] SALLY: They don’t get charged.

[00:04:30] IAN: Yeah just to make sure that you’re like a real person. Speaking of teachers actually so let’s tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into drones. I’ve heard this story before but it’s very interesting.

[00:04:41] SALLY: That was a good transition. I like that.

[00:04:45] IAN: Thank you.

[00:04:45] SALLY: I did get into drones simply because of the class. So I do think this is pretty funny. I was a journalism major in college and had no idea what a drone was. And I needed one more credit to graduate and pretty much the only thing that fit into my schedule was a drone journalism class. And so I decided I might as well take it because I want the degree.

[00:05:06] IAN: Where was this?

[00:05:07] SALLY: It was at the University of Missouri.

[00:05:08] IAN: Ok cool.

[00:05:09] SALLY: And I it was the first time they were ever offering and we talked about the laws which at the time weren’t really there. We talked about ethics and you know when can you fly over people and photograph people and then we actually put it into practice and made some news stories using drones so a mix of you know people on the ground and people talking. And then also incorporating drone footage to really tell her story and that was totally life changing for me after that class. And it I made my blog and here I am talking on CommercialDrones FM.

[00:05:42] IAN: That’s amazing. Do you know if they still do that class at Missouri?

[00:05:44] SALLY: No. You know this is crazy. Actually I right when the class ended the semester ended. I got my degree and the FAA sent the school a cease and desist letter.

[00:05:56] IAN: Goodness.

[00:05:57] SALLY: Ian shaking his head, they said this is a commercial use of drones. This was in May 2013 when kind of the FAA was really cracking down on drone use. And they figured since we were paying tuition. The teacher was accepting a salary that was a commercial use. Yeah I know it’s crazy which is I guess we thought it was an educational use. And the FAA disputed that. And so we ended our class. But actually you might remember at AUVSI this year in New Orleans they just announced that. Now drone education is is not a commercial use and so they recognize it’s an educational use. So now you can fly drones without you know that 333 at the time or even the part 107.

[00:06:45] IAN: That’s right yeah. Administer Huerta dropped that bomb at a AVUSI that was good. I was actually expecting something a little bit more significant than that but that’s I mean that’s excellent. Like obviously the school getting a cease and desist letter from the FAA. That’s a little, I mean.

[00:07:02] SALLY: It was pretty silly. I mean I feel like.

[00:07:06] IAN: I’ll keep my opinion on that.

[00:07:09] SALLY: Oh I’ll share my opinion. I mean it’s so funny because every time you see a drone crash into the White House or crash into the Empire State Building. I feel like all the comments I read on the blogs on my own blog are oh you know these people are so stupid. They need to get an education. And everyone you know belittles a pilot for not having an education but then complains that there is an education available and it’s like you know I agree the FAA shut down that class so those people are right there is their education.

[00:07:39] IAN: It’s good now that that you know people will be able to officially in universities or schools. I mean heck I would have loved in elementary school or or something to be able to use a drone but isn’t there. There’s actually a provision in that where the instructor or the teacher or the professor themself you cannot operate the drone.

[00:08:02] SALLY: That is true.

[00:08:02] IAN: Within that.

[00:08:03] SALLY: You are not mistaken.

[00:08:04] IAN: Within that regulation. So I don’t even know. I mean it’s a good step. It’s like a half a step forward. And I don’t even know if it’s any step backward but we’re getting there slowly.

[00:08:14] SALLY: Luckily part 107 is not too hard to get at least that’s what it sounds like.

[00:08:19] IAN: Yes I agree.

[00:08:21] SALLY: We’re a month out, so we’ll see.

[00:08:22] IAN: True that, is it supposed to enact on August 28 or 29. I heard two reports.

[00:08:27] SALLY: Sometime in August.

[00:08:28] IAN: OK. I read 28 or 29 I think it was Peter Socks, the drone lawyer on Twitter that was saying that and then a couple other people. But anyways. Awesome. OK. So we’re making a little bit of progress. So you’ve you got into drones in university and you started the Drone Girl. Where are you working at currently?

[00:08:50] SALLY: So I’m currently working at Market Watch and I was actually hired to do that job. I just wanted some type of journalism job and wasn’t too committed to drones at the time. I mean drones weren’t even that big at the time and they saw my drone girl site and said Will you be our social media editor. And I said all Oh I really want to cover tech for you and they said no no like you can be our social media editor but you know since then drones have gotten so big and now they’re like Sally you need to cover all of these drone stories. So now I get to write about drones for them too.

[00:09:21] IAN: How cool.

[00:09:21] SALLY: 24/7 it’s writing about drones.

[00:09:24] IAN: That’s amazing So it’s kind of taking your passion from the Drone Girl.

[00:09:28] SALLY: For sure.

[00:09:28] IAN: Now you get to you get paid for it.

[00:09:29] SALLY: For sure.

[00:09:30] IAN: The dream right there.

[00:09:31] SALLY: Its a pretty good deal.

[00:09:32] IAN: That’s awesome and so for MarketWatch what kind of stories are you covering? I mean I’ve read quite a few of your your articles for MarketWatch. What’s the Web site MarketWatch.com. There you go. Who owns MarketWatch? Are they their company or?

[00:09:46] SALLY: No we’re a little sister side of the Wall Street Journal.

[00:09:48] IAN:OK gotcha.

[00:09:50] SALLY: We’re all in the same place.

[00:09:51] IAN: OK. cool.

[00:09:51] SALLY: I think the goal is that you’re supposed to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal after you see our content.We’ll see what happens.

[00:09:59] IAN: I don’t know if I’m going to go a full blown Wall Street Journal yet but I’m really enjoying your stories. So what are you covering exactly? I mean you’re doing the reviews on hardware mostly for drone girl on the side and for MarketWatch. Is it just like commercial drone industry news?

[00:10:16] SALLY: Yes so it’s pretty much you know what the companies are doing. People care about the publicly traded companies because most of our readers are investors. So you know people are really curious what’s GoPro going to do. GoPro has had a pretty rough year. They were supposed to announce their drone earlier this year than they delayed it so. So that’s that’s pretty key for investors, stuff like that. You know part 107 was huge because that means that the drone industry really is is recognized.

[00:10:45] IAN:Did you guys push that pretty hard. Was there like readership goals that were broken because of part 107.

[00:10:50] SALLY: Oh absolutely.

[00:10:51] IAN: So everyone, so there’s a lot of interests in other.

[00:10:53] SALLY: I would say definitely our biggest interests are the broader stock market like Brexit. So I had to cover Brexit you know drones don’t have a lot to do with the Brexit.

[00:11:03] IAN: Yeah, yeah.

[00:11:03] SALLY: I could tell you about that on another podcast.

[00:11:05] IAN: No problem now. Yeah I’ll link up the sistered podcast that covers Brexit. Awesome. So what kind of things do you really enjoy about drones personally. I mean what was the thing that sparked your passion in drones.

[00:11:21] SALLY: I think I’m really drawn by the creative uses of drones. I mean people fly them and raise them and make maps with them. But I am so so amazed by the really creative things I hear. So I’ll tell you about my I think my favorite use case of a drone. It is very hard to gather whale DNA apparently. And it’s invasive because you have to you know go near the whale or actually.

[00:11:49] IAN: Like a hump back whale or any and of whale?

[00:11:49] SALLY: Any whales, it’s hard to get whale DNA. And so scientists realized whale DNA is in your snot.

[00:11:58] IAN: I have whale DNA in my snot?

[00:12:00] SALLY: You have Ian DNA.

[00:12:00] IAN: Oh, OK sorry.

[00:12:00] SALLY: I think so at least. And so they realized when a whale blows up its star when it comes up for air there’s DNA in there. So they fly drones over the whales and there’s a little contraption that opens and closes. So when the whale blows up its air in the air and the snaw inside of it goes into that contraption and it flies away back to the scientist. And then the scientists can do their research. The whale had no idea what happened and it was all thanks to a drone.

[00:12:31] IAN: Do you know what kind of research are doing with that whale snot?

[00:12:35] SALLY: You know that’s. That beats me. But you know I know a lot of companies are doing it. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is doing a lot of stuff with it a Unique and DJI have said their drones are involved in that.

[00:12:51] IAN: Very cool.

[00:12:51] SALLY: Yeah it’s pretty neat.

[00:12:52] IAN:That’s awesome. I wonder if they’re using the DJI-STK something to make sure that that it’s working. But I guess they just have to strap the sensor on to the drone.

[00:13:00] SALLY: They just need the DNA.

[00:13:01] IAN: OK. Very cool. That’s awesome. Yeah, I like that use case too. So OK so unique use cases really are what what kind of drive you drive your passion here. Why do you think that whenever we go to conferences drone conferences and things we don’t see many women you’re kind of unique? I mean we do see more women than we used to but like what’s the deal with that? Why?

[00:13:29] SALLY: You’re definitely right. I definitely feel like a minority at drone conferences. There is you know the classic joke of the Usually the women’s bathroom line is really long and at drone conferences there’s never any one else women’s bathroom it’s actually very convenient for me.

[00:13:45] IAN: Oh, that’s amazing.

[00:13:46] SALLY: Not having to wait.

[00:13:47] IAN: In that case. Oh yeah let’s go ahead and just stop this right now.

[00:13:49] SALLY: Let’s keep it that way. But you know Ian you bring up a really interesting point there are a lot of women in the industry to begin with. You know you always hear stories about women dropping out of the tech industry. I think there’s a lot of culture problems that go along with it along with not seeing a lot of female role models. Often you know you see someone on the stage and you say I want to be like them.

[00:14:13] And if everyone on this stage is a guy it’s impossible to say I want to be like them. You can certainly aspire to have a career and aspire to you know study with a study. But I think gender makes such a huge difference. And it’s it’s encouraging to see a woman on the stage and realize I can do that. But that happens really quite rarely. So my goal is and I actually bet on a panel that achieved this goal is a drone conference that has more than two women on one panel and the panel is not allowed to be about women and drones.

[00:14:47] IAN: I was just going to say that was one of my favorite tweets of yours is that you were looking around and there was there was a conference that didn’t have any women on panels unless it was a conference about women in drones. Was it AVSI?

[00:15:00] SALLY:Oh you know.

[00:15:01] IAN: Or exponential.

[00:15:02] SALLY: There are actually a lot of panels or a lot of conferences that do that. But it was actually at South by Southwest and it was a panel with Administrator Huerta from the FAA and there were two women on it and then I actually moderated it. So there are three of us and we were talking about things at South by Southwest. So that was pretty hip and trendy. It was at the Google Fiber space too.

[00:15:24] IAN: Ok cool and so that’s not the only panel you’ve moderated. I was at the Drones Data X Conference. Just what was it. Earlier in June.

[00:15:32] SALLY: That was a good one.

[00:15:32] IAN: And you did a panel with Travis from.

[00:15:36] SALLY: Travis Mason from Google X.

[00:15:38] IAN: Yeah. So what did you guys talk about on that panel?

[00:15:40] SALLY: That one was pretty interesting we were talking about the drone air traffic control. That’s a pretty hot topic and I think a lot of different drone companies have their hands on ways that we can optimize air traffic control. It’s pretty interesting because NASA is working on things but a lot of companies really want to speed it up. So Google and Amazon have incentives to get air traffic control kinda of nailed down today because they want to deliver packages tomorrow so they can’t really wait for the FAA.

[00:16:15] IAN: And this is called the UTM right?

[00:16:17] SALLY: UTM exactly.

[00:16:18] IAN: So what does UTM stand for? Unmanned Traffic Management?

[00:16:23] SALLY: Yeah, it’s actually I feel like it’s more UASTM but traffic management is a T and the M.

[00:16:29] IAN: Gotcha.OK.

[00:16:30] SALLY: There’s too many acronyms don’t you think?

[00:16:32] IAN SMITH: Yeah there’s a funny story actually a story that nobody knows.But now everyone will know.

[00:16:37] SALLY: Tells us.

[00:16:37] IAN: I was – literally, Oh this is embarrassing. I was trying to find more content ideas for the podcast. So I started listing all the drone acronyms and there’s like over – there’s like 75 or a 100 and.

[00:16:48] SALLY: This is great idea. I would love it.

[00:16:50] IAN: I literally just started talking into the mic. This is one of the first episodes I was going to do and I just started listening acronyms. And then when I got to acronym number 10, I was like What in God’s name am I doing. And I finished it actually exists there’s me talking into a mic.

[00:17:03] SALLY: About how many minutes is it?

[00:17:04] IAN: It is way too long.

[00:17:06] SALLY: How many hours?

[00:17:06] IAN: Yeah it’s so long no one will ever hear it. So it’s funny.

[00:17:09] SALLY: So we’re airing this next week on CommercialDrones.FM.

[00:17:12] IAN: If people ask and they really want to hear me just talk about some acronyms. Whenever I first grabbed this mic, I’ll do it.

[00:17:19] SALLY: I will listen.

[00:17:19] IAN: OK. Yeah that’ll be good. I would be the least.

[00:17:22] SALLY: It would be my alarm clock when I wake up in the morning.

[00:17:24] IAN: Yeah, that would put you right back to sleep.

[00:17:24] SALLY: Ian saying all these names.

[00:17:27] IAN: Exactly, well cool. So by many reports and by many accounts you know the drone industry is expected, the commercial drone industry in particular which is what this podcast focuses on is expected to be worth more than 20 billion bucks in the next 10 years in the United States if not worldwide probably a bit more. Is that true?

[00:17:53] SALLY: Ouu I feel like whether you ask Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch or whoever they’ll give you a different number.

[00:17:58] IAN:That’s exactly right. I think what Collin Snow the drone analyst.

[00:18:01] SALLY: Yes he’ll tell you all about that.

[00:18:03] IAN: He keeps track of all of the projections so I’m hoping that he can tweet me and tell me which projection he believes most then.

[00:18:11] SALLY: Collin tweet us.

[00:18:12] IAN: Yeah for sure but what do you think?

[00:18:12] SALLY:You know it is so funny I get reports all the time especially from Market Watch and all these different people give these different projections. And it’s it’s hard to know. I mean what do you even really basing this off is it sales. Is it revenue, is it profits? What are you looking at? What do you even consider a drone? I mean it’s a little toy that was $30 at Target? Are you putting this in your calculation?

[00:18:38] I mean it’s pretty hard to know and then is do you count you like Rovers as a drone also but I can say definitively it is huge it’s growing. I feel like all these companies keep keep achieving new feats they’re hiring. They’re getting more investor funding and that is such a clear indication that drones are only going to be bigger especially now with part 107. It just makes this space so much easier to get into too.

[00:19:06] IAN: What are some of the the identifiers that you see as the drone industry growing on your end like are you seeing like you know the views on some of your articles and things like going you know crazier as time goes on.

[00:19:19] SALLY: I can definitely tell you based on just social media follow means alone. It’s simply more people following because more people are interested. I mean three years ago I didn’t even know what the word drone was I had you know kind of vaguely heard it in news stories that mostly about military use cases and I had no idea what you know what Phantom was and two years ago most people still didn’t know what a phantom was.

[00:19:44] And then a one year ago people would say Oh Sally I saw someone fly in like a little like way robot like. It kind of looks like yours and I’m like OK it’s probably a phantom and there like. I don’t know. And now I mean a phantom is sold at the Apple store and DJI is becoming a household name.

[00:20:01] IAN: It’s huge.

[00:20:02] SALLY: And that to me is a clear indication that people know what drones are.

[00:20:06] IAN: Amazing. Yeah. Well this is good. Good for the podcast good for the industry and our passion. For someone new Maybe in particular a young lady who might be interested in joining the drone industry whether it’s like software or marketing or sales or. I don’t even know anything any any like division at a drone company or maybe even starting their own. What kind of advice would you give to someone a young lady that’s interested in doing so that we need badly in this industry more of.

[00:20:36] SALLY: Yeah I would say just absolutely do it. I mean it’s hard to get in when you don’t see any role models but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. I mean there’s so many applications. You know sometimes I wonder why didn’t I study engineering in college or why didn’t I study aerospace.

[00:20:51] And if I could go back in time 10 years maybe I would have. But then I realize you know what it doesn’t really matter because we need so many people using drones we need you know the biologists to think of you know a better way to get whale DNA. That’s that’s not an engineer, that’s a biologist who thought of that. You know we need the people to do the sales, we need the really good communications people to actually talk about them and talk about why drones are valuable to the world. So we need all kinds of people and it’s growing so get in it now.

[00:21:27] IAN: Don’t wait just do it. So you did mention a good point right there. There’s a lot of industries that are just turning to drones because they’re tools as well. So that’s that’s very I’m glad you said that because I was just thinking oh yeah you need to go work for a drone company and things like that but very good point you definitely don’t need to. You can still use these things as tools in your business and pretty much any industry. I mean it’s just getting pretty widespread.

[00:21:53] SALLY: Whether you’re an artist you can somehow incorporate drones into that obviously, film-making, maybe you’re really into construction and you’re the person who can you know get the DroneDeploy app and map out the construction site. And you don’t need to work for a drone company, pursue your passion and then incorporate drones into that.

[00:22:12] IAN: Excellent, cool so you can follow Sally on Twitter @thedronegirl, you can hit her up on Instagram @officialdronegirl because somebody took @dronegirl, so Instagram is @officialdronegirl. Her Website is thedronegirl.com. And then you can also catch her really interesting and very well thought out and researched articles on MarketWatch.com. And she’ll be tweeting that stuff out. So do you have any last thoughts any anything else you want to share with all the listeners of CommercialDrones.FM?

[00:22:46] SALLY: No, just thanks for joining us. Thanks for being so supportive it’s a great community to be a part of. I love going to conferences it seems like every month and every time it’s like a family reunion seeing all my favorite drone people.

[00:22:58] IAN: Excellent yes. Always good to see you. Thank you so much for being on the show. You guys can follow us on @dronespodcast on Twitter or Facebook. It’s the same, hit up the website at commercialdrones.fm and you can subscribe to the newsletter get notified of new episodes and if you could subscribe and leave a review or rating on iTunes or Google Play or whatever you use to listen to podcasts. I would greatly appreciate that. Everything’s looking good so far. So I’m really really happy to be doing this. I get to talk to really cool people like Sally French whos is not French, having the Drone Girl on the show is very cool. And just a very strong role model in general not just for ladies that want to join but. For the industry as a whole. So again thanks so much Sally and we’ll see you guys next time. Cheers.