Women in Drones: Motivating, Inspiring, and Integrating within the Industry

We kicked off our Women in Drones series as a lead up to the luncheon that took place at the Commercial UAV Expo, but that event wasn’t the beginning or ending of the topic. The Women in Drones Networking Luncheon provided attendees with a key place to connect with one another around what it means to be involved with the drone industry and share their experiences, and this series will continue to showcase that involvement and those experiences.

Being able to connect with Dyan Gibbens provided us with the perfect opportunity to do just that, as she was one of the leaders that took the stage during that panel discussion. As the CEO & founder of Trumbull Unmanned, she has plenty of relevant experiences that she was able to share here as well as ones that are exclusive to events like the Women in Drones Networking Luncheon. We connected with her before the Expo, but wanted to make sure to ask her about the things that were discussed at the luncheon, which include the various projects she has going on as well as the personal and professional challenges she’s had to deal with and overcome.

See was Dyan has to say about her work with Chevron, the impact of Part 107, what it means to be a leader in this industry and plenty more via the interview below. To keep the conversation going, please join the Women in Drones group and start or contribute to an ongoing discussion.

 

Commercial UAV News: It’s been quite a year for you, which has included speaking at the White House about the future of aviation and showcasing the work you’re doing with Chevron in San Joaquin valley. What have been some other highlights from 2016?

Dyan Gibbens: At Trumbull, we have a big vision for UAS to support energy and environmental initiatives. This past year, we advanced in those goals and supported controlled methane releases around California (we flew at Caltech), humpback whale research with NOAA in Hawaii, and gray whale migration research in California. This Spring, I wrapped up the 2015-2016 Society of Petroleum Engineers global lecture tour, speaking to oil and gas companies on UAS benefits in places like Egypt, India, Malaysia and the Philippines. As 2016 continues, we are excited for our linear corridor projects, oil spill response efforts, and technology and analytics advancements.

 

Were you surprised at how much officials in the White House were aware of the drone issues facing the energy sector? Was there a prominent issue you believe that setting allowed you to bring to light?

The FAA has the enormous responsibility of maintaining safe skies for US citizens, controlling both manned and unmanned aircraft. From the White House, I have been impressed by this Administration’s collaborative nature for events like the White House Drone Workshop and Future of Aviation, and I am equally impressed by leaders in OSTP. This collaboration continued at SXSL (South by South Lawn), where leaders in tech connected…who may not have otherwise crossed paths.

The FAA is taking positive steps with waivers to advance BVLOS, nighttime operations, and flight over people. Three focus areas I shared from the energy sector included (1) safe and cost effective beyond line of sight, (2) inspection, management and protection of critical infrastructure, and (3) immediate incidence response. Trumbull aims to continue to emphasize the need for immediate, emergency response from both civilian and commercial entities.

 

How has Part 107 impacted the sort of work you are and will be doing with companies like Chevron?

As with manned aircraft, the oil and gas industry will continue to have high standards, and we aim to meet or exceed those standards. While I cannot speak on behalf of Chevron, I can share that some industry standards may evolve on a case-by-case basis. For example, if someone has flown a specific type of UAS while serving in the military, and then aims to transfer that same experience in the commercial sector, s/he may not be required to obtain a pilot’s license or similar existing requirements. Within the oil and gas industry, many use cases still require both an operator and observer. As we move forward with operational and reliability data to support safe automated operations, we support fewer restrictions on operations.

 

How have you helped oil and gas companies see and realize a bottom line difference when it comes to utilizing a drone?

Trumbull aims to solve our clients most technically challenging problems. We create value from improvements in safety, productivity, and cost. By now, most are familiar with flare stack inspections which can save an order of magnitude in time and money of an inspection. For Trumbull and our clients, safety is paramount. Savings result from averting shutdowns, flying drones instead of helicopters, and now using drones to detect methane. We aim to add 10 times the value at 1/10th the cost.

 

Does the data that’s being gathered by a drone represent something totally new and different for these companies, or is it simply a more efficient and effective way for them to gather information they’d want and need regardless?

We see both. Drones are a tool to collect data. In many cases, drones are better, faster, and safer than legacy processes. In other cases, we are acquiring data that was either impossible to acquire or very expensive to acquire. The value can be measured in cost, productivity, and safety metrics.

 

Has it been a challenge to integrate drones into oil & gas environments from a safety perspective? As you mentioned, the oil and gas industry as a whole has incredibly high safety standards, and being able to demonstrate how drones can and do meet those standards isn’t always something that’s easy for them to assess.

The energy sector, particularly the oil and gas industry, demand safety. For each project, we submit safety protocol, risk matrix, and work with clients to identify and mitigate any unforeseen hazards. Other than flare inspections and some infrastructure inspections, every project has been different and has required deliberate and precise safety precautions. Our clients want safety, reliability, and maintenance data from OEMs. Though we track our metrics, much of those data points are not published.

 

Trumbull Unmanned is dedicated to safely integrating UAVs into the oil and gas industry, but you’ve already mentioned some of the more creative uses of the technology. Using drones to scout for whales might not seem like a natural fit for drone technology, but using UAVs to help gather and showcase some essential info about whale movements and migration strategies had to be exciting.

The gray whale migration observation project was a collaborative effort with Trumbull, ExxonMobil, DigitalGlobe, Toyon, and Gray Whales Count. A WSJ MarketWatch article provides an overview and quotes from ExxonMobil. A paper will be published later this year with more information on comparing spatial, spectral, and temporal resolution from UAV, satellite, and shore-based sensors. After initial review of our data, we learned that the integrated team observed a mom/calf pair from all four mediums concurrently, which to our knowledge has not occurred to date.

 

What does this sort of application tell you about other opportunities that might arise for anyone who’s using this technology?

In short, we are on the cusp of this disruptive innovation. Many of our projects have increased in scope due to highly engaged clients who are open to integrating new, safe technology to improve operations. Many of the use cases come from our clients, we love that approach and we want to help realize their vision.

 

There’s clearly a lot going on at Trumbull Unmanned, but somehow you’re still able to find the time be part of initiatives like the summer drone camp at Rice University for sixth, seventh and eight graders. What makes these sorts of projects so important to you?

The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of schoolchildren will enter jobs that do not exist yet. Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is a passion of mine and of Trumbull as a company. We must inspire and equip the next generation of engineers and scientists to be prepared for all of the jobs the UAS industry will create. Just as with the Internet, cloud based services, or apps, many of these jobs have not yet been created.

In addition to Drone Camps, we also supported a Youth Academy for underserved youth with Rice Police Department, a STEM event at Rice for 4000 students and teachers, and we worked with Rice Center for Engineering Leadership as a corporate partner for the Rice Owls Aerial Robotics club. Trumbull also supports STEM events with clients and we are working on larger scale efforts to reach more individuals.

 

From the Women in Drones Networking Luncheon. Dyan Gibbens is seated to the far left.

From the Women in Drones Networking Luncheon. Dyan Gibbens is seated to the far left.

As part of the “Girls Can’t Drone” series on DroneLife, you mentioned that there have been some challenges that you’ve had to overcome, which hasn’t been easy. What can you tell us about those challenges?

On a personal level, due to a skydiving injury while at the Air Force Academy, I was ultimately permanently medically disqualified from ever serving after trying to transition from Active Duty to Air Force Reserves. All I wanted to do was serve. I was devastated. So I chose government consulting and supported Air Force One and Global Hawk engineering and sustainment efforts. To me, it was the closest thing to serving. Hindsight is 20/20 and without undergoing those transitions, I would not be leading Trumbull.

On a professional level, Trumbull is overcoming challenges any small business encounters such as knowing who to trust, what to share, and how and when to scale. Growing Trumbull organically through client contracts (and personal savings) resulted in many challenges where we learned tremendous lessons. We are excited about our next growth steps and will be sharing more information on Trumbull Australia in the next several weeks. I aim to advance the global UAS industry, and I am not afraid of a challenge.

 

In that piece, you’re quoted as saying, ‘I want to be a leader in the industry, and I happen to be a woman,” which summarizes the mentality of all great leaders, regardless of gender, industry or any other situational detail. Should that be the mentality of any aspiring operator or engineer? 

While I believe individuals should aim to be the best in their field, we must collaborate. Every day, I aim to follow traits and virtues to be credible and approachable while serving others. I am grateful Trumbull serves amazing clients and collaborates with strategic partners to advance the UAS industry.

At the USAF Academy, I spent most of my time with engineering, in leadership, and skydiving. While there, and as an officer, I needed close girlfriends to connect, bond, and support. When I served in the Air Force, I created WOMeN, Women Officers Mentoring Network. WOMeN served as a social network and support group.

In the commercial sector, Lisa Ellman and Gretchen West created Women of Commercial Drones and I wanted to help lead an initiative like this. We have amazing advisors and are using this momentum to mentor younger generations, support STEM and each other. We aim to motivate, inspire, and integrate within the industry.

 

What are some of the initiatives you’re looking forward to leading as Part 107 and changes to the public’s perception of drones create a whole new landscape in which UAVs can operate for commercial purposes?

Trumbull is working to continue progress and maintain momentum in UAS operations. We are also beta testing new sensors, software, and drones. Under Part 107, Trumbull just received our nighttime waiver and performed our first commercial nighttime operations as part of an integrated oil spill response effort.

We are integrating our technology development and analytics solutions with Part 107. For example, we are also working on more immediate response efforts to augment and in some cases replace manned aircraft. Trumbull is also focused on GPS denied navigation and a quantitative methane sensing solution.

In each case, we are collaborating with the FAA, clients, and relevant stakeholders on safe immediate response and BVLOS. Trumbull will continue to support STEM initiatives and the ability to create jobs, solve our world’s most challenging issues, and be part of the next industrial revolution.

 

 

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About the Author

Jeremiah Karpowicz always envisioned a career as a screenwriter, but found the autonomy and freedom he was looking for in the digital space. He has created articles, videos, newsletters, ebooks and plenty more for various communities as a contributor and editor. He has also worked as the Executive Editor for ProVideo Coalition where he was first introduced to UAV technology. You can get in touch with him on Twitter: @jeremiahkarp

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