At PrecisionHawk, we’re pioneering drone technology for the commercial sector. It’s made possible by our people.
Seattle native Shawn Wilson brought his energy expertise to PrecisionHawk in May. With 11 years of experience in the Geomatics Industry, he has a clear vision for how the field applies to drones. Here, Shawn has found a role that matches his adventurous, creative personality—he gets to “choose [his] own adventure” every day.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
If we’re talking literally, it’s my cat batting me in the face at 4 a.m. every morning to let me know that he’s hungry, but really, I’m excited to solve problems and find new applications and solutions. I love talking with clients in the Energy sector and discerning their main issues and concerns in performing daily tasks and meeting regulatory compliance. I like finding opportunities for drones to fit their solutions, especially figuring out how drones can help get them information they simply can’t get out of traditional data collection.
Before working at PrecisionHawk, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
While I was doing terrestrial scanning and ground-based photogrammetry, I started working on accident scenes for local Sheriff's departments and state agencies. For my first scene (a car accident), I modeled the area, built the entire roadway three dimensionally and scanned where the tire treads were. With the tire treads, we could do a calculation to determine how fast the driver was going.
After working with accidents for a while, I was called to work on homicide scenes. I would scan the areas and do blood spatter patterns, model where bullet casings were, perform bullet hole trajectories to find where the shooter was standing and generally get an overall picture of what happened.
How has PrecisionHawk helped you in your professional development?
The way I look at it is this: I was given an opportunity to find my own course in an industry that has the potential to be a big, modern-day data gold rush, where businesses and industries are going to adopt drone technology to stay relevant, meet constricting budgets, or to gain a competitive advantage.
Entering an industry where you are able to choose your own adventure like this is something that is incredibly exciting.
Honestly, working with drones has been something that I’ve been really wanting to get into full-time for a while now because of my background in surveying.
How do you see drone technology evolving over the next 5 years?
Right now, we’re just scratching the surface of what the drone industry has to offer. A good example is the ENIAC. It was the first fully functional digital computer, built in the 1940’s, weighting around 50,000 lbs. As with all tech, it got smaller, faster and more efficient. One of the evolutions I see is from a hardware perspective: GPS receivers are going to increase in efficiency, telemetry is going to be able to increase the frequency of measurements, and lithium technology in batteries is going to increase in efficiency for longer flight times. Though I can see all of that happening, the main evolution that I see is in the software. It’s going to get to the point where it’s able to do a lot of advanced metrics and analysis automatically through a machine learning process as well as a QA/QC check on the information that’s extracted.
What are the biggest challenges in the Energy space that you see drones (and aerial data) being able to solve?
I’m going to break it down into three main categories: the biggest challenges drones are going to be able to solve are those of worker safety, project efficiency, and lack of information.
- Safety: Energy companies have long stretches of land called “right-of-ways” that their power and pipe lines go through. These need to be inspected on foot or by plane, but instead, drones could be used to collect aerial information and perform the visual inspection, saving field staff from potentially hazardous situations.
- Efficiency: Drones will change the surveying paradigm to where companies no longer rely on a single person in the field to make decisions. Drones can take the data into the office where key decision-makers can sit around a screen and make an educated decision together.
- Lack of information: Once when I was in New York working on a demo for an electric company, I was told a story about a tragic event in another district. A company had deployed people to perform inspections on a power pole from the ground, which doesn’t allow full visualization of all angles. The power pole had started to rot out from the top down because rain was collecting and pooling at the very top, creating a rot hole. The power line attached to the pole crossed over somebody’s house and one day the cross bars broke free, fell on the house and burnt it down. So, relying on only a ground inspection did not give the inspectors full information to correct the problem.
If you could give your 21 year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Congratulations on the degree. Now, be quiet and listen to the people who you respect and have more life experience than you. (This also applies to most of my twenties.)
If you could choose anyone to be your mentor who would it be?
First, a shout out to my family: I’m fortunate enough to have some really great mentors within my immediate family, and I appreciate everything they have done, supported me with, and given me guidance on. Other ideal mentors include Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Elon Musk, and Alfred (from Christopher Nolan’s “Batman”).
Do you have a motto or personal mantra?
“Hold my beer,” because I’m always trying to do new things at random. This often leads to an eye roll or head shake from my wife.
With a willingness to pioneer new ideas and practical applications for future drone technology, Shawn has exactly what PrecisionHawk needs. Though he didn’t have a drone-centered background, he shares our vision for the innumerable opportunities that drones can provide, and he’s not scared to navigate every day like an adventure.