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Drone Innovation

Chief Drone Ninja Taylor Mitcham, is a mining and mineral engineer who founded SkyNinja to help the construction, renewable energy and utility industries map, monitor and inspect projects using drones. Before starting SkyNinja, she was a project engineer for a major EPFC construction firm building critical infrastructure for industries including power/utility, oil and gas, and mining.

Why did you start Sky Ninja?

Chief Drone Ninja Taylor Mitcham

I started SkyNinja because I saw a need in the construction industry. Prior to SkyNinja, I started a drone program at the industrial construction company I was working for as a project engineer. Using drones, we would take aerial photographs to show our clients and people who were not onsite, the progress we were making on a project. The supply chain used the photos to see what equipment we had on and offsite. Quantity surveyors used it to verify their progress reports. The photos even helped settle a couple of disputes over materials used in earlier phases of the project. From above, you can see the whole project in its entirety at once. After this, I started experimenting with mapping and using the drones to verify cut and fill quantities and volumes of dirt brought onto the site. That’s when I realized that this tool, the drone, could help other companies run their projects more efficiently. And not only construction, but industries like telecom and insurance as well.

What is your business model?

SkyNinja provides services directly to our clients. We also do consulting for companies who want to integrate drones into their operations directly. For our construction clients, we often set up recurring revenue contracts in order to help them for the length of their projects. All other work is on a case-by-case basis depending on the scope.

What are your biggest challenges as a startup?

First off is keeping up with how fast the market is changing. The drone industry is one of the fastest moving industries and if you blink too long you’ll get left behind. My next biggest challenge is choosing the right people to work with whether it’s an employee, contractor or other companies. Speed is an important factor in this industry, but you need to have the right people on your side. Our last challenge is cybersecurity. Some of the data we collect for our clients is sensitive and it’s important that it does not end up in the wrong hands.

How are drones changing the construction and utilities industries?

In the construction industry, drones are changing the way companies monitor their projects. Not only can the technology capture a photo from a low altitude from the sky, but they can also create 2D and 3D maps of a site. These maps can also provide measurements (volume and linear) that can aid in the verification of materials and placements. The best part is that the process to obtain this data is much faster and has greater detail than traditional methods, such as hiring a plane to take pictures. In the utility industry, drones are used to inspect assets such as power lines. This not only increases the speed at which these items can be inspected but also increases safety significantly. Before drones, someone had to climb to the top of the pole to see what was happening. Now a drone can fly to the top and see close enough to read the serial numbers of parts in minutes. This is especially critical during disaster response when time is of the essence.

You are an engineer. How can we get girls interested in STEM?

We need to show them how STEM impacts their life and what they do day-to-day. It’s great when girls are interested in cars or planes like I was as a kid, but not all girls are. They might get more interested in STEM if they knew that chemical engineers are the ones who create makeup and hair products. It’s about getting to their level of interest and showing them how STEM impacts it whether it’s building an app or creating the best concealer.

Who inspires you?

Definitely Jessica Cox. She’s done more in her life with no arms, than I have with. She motivates me to step-up my game and do something.

Cindy Loffler Stevens