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Expert Interview Series: Sally French of The Drone Girl On Becoming A Drone Enthusiast

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Sally French is the founder of The Drone Girl, one of the drone industry’s leading blogs.

To begin, how did you first get interested in drones? What inspired you to start The Drone Girl, initially?

I got into drones by accident! I was a journalism major at the University of Missouri and needed one credit to graduate. The only thing that really fit into my schedule was a course newly being offered that year on drones. I signed up and was initially hooked! It was a new technology and there was hardly any information about them on the internet, so I opted to get that information out there.

You’ve talked about a number of positive applications for drones, including spotting poachers and saving rhinos. What have been some other conservation efforts that drones have been a part of, if you happen to know? What are some of the advantages of using drones for this type of work?

Drones have been used to non-invasively gather DNA from whales and to herd elephants! Every day I hear of a new use case for drones, and wildlife use cases are among my favorites.

There are many advantages to using drones for this kind of work. In the case of collecting DNA, instead of a scientist having to approach the whale, which could be dangerous to both parties, the drone can hover over the whale and collect DNA via snot (when the drone blows air and spit as it comes up to surface, drones collect it, bringing that DNA to scientists). The whale has no idea it happened.

You’ve also reported on drones being used to deliver sushi at restaurants. What are your thoughts on the future of automated drones for delivery services? Will that be a thing, do you think, and if so, when might we start to see UAVs being used for commercial deliveries?

Drone delivery has a huge economic case for high-value items that need to be delivered urgently. Think, a heart transplant being shipped from a hospital in one town to another hospital nearby. An item like that needs to be shipped with extreme urgency, and since it’s so valuable, people will pay anything to have it delivered.

As far as items like tacos being delivered by drone, I’m skeptical. Ground delivery services are already highly efficient, so I wouldn’t bet on drones replacing less urgent, low-cost items that need to be delivered on a huge scale, like tacos.

One of the main reasons for The Drone Girl is to spread drone photography. What have been some of the most inspiring images you’ve seen from drone operators? Are there any special cameras or software that someone might need, to get started with drone photography?

You really don’t need any special camera or software! Start with any drone that you feel comfortable flying. The DJI Phantom 3 costs less than $500, which includes the drone and the camera.

You’ve studied Drone Journalism at the University Of Missouri. What exactly is Drone Journalism, and can we expect to see more of that on the rise?

Drone journalism is simply photojournalists adding a drone to their tool kit. Photojournalists typically use a dSLR, and recently we’re even seeing more photos in the news that were shot by simply using a smartphone. Drone journalism is just a camera in the sky. It provides that aerial view that is essential to telling the story. It can show exactly how big a fire is, or how many protesters are at an event.

The Drone Girl has been involved with a wide number of events. What have been some particularly memorable events you’ve participate with? What did you take away from that experience?

Gosh, so many! South by Southwest was amazing, and not just because I have been wanting to go forever. But I got to share the stage with Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta. It was so refreshing to see the government working so closely with the tech companies. You can tell he is listening to what the industry wants and watching how rapidly it is changing, and they are working to promote a culture of safety while supporting progress. I also love talking to middle school students. They are so impressionable and that’s typically when they start thinking about their careers. If just one student is more motivated to take an engineering course, that’s a wonderful thing!

You regularly post reviews on The Drone Girl, of drones as well as software and accessories. What have been some standout models for you? What made them so memorable?

The drones are changing so rapidly. Drones I loved 2 years ago are completely outdated now. DJI, Yuneec and Autel all make good quality camera drones that are reliable. There are also racing drones which are just so much fun. Of course, I would always recommend users start with a toy drone that they can afford to crash into a pool.

Likewise, what qualities do you look for in a drone when you’re writing a review? How do you measure the performance?

The number one factor is safety. If I don’t feel safe using it, I simply won’t use it, and I would never recommend anyone else use it either. Along those lines, ease of use is important. I generally don’t get too hung up on minute specs, like a 2-minute difference in flight time. That’s what extra batteries are for!

Based on your experience, do you feel that drones will continue to rise (pun slightly intended), or will they just be a fad that will die down? Why might someone want to consider getting licensed as a drone operator, in case the trend does continue?

We’ve been asking the “are drones a fad” question for about 3 years now, and so far, drones are still going strong. So I would have to say that for now, the answer is, no, drones are not a fad!

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