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5 Questions with Hogan Lovells' Gretchen West

Gretchen West tells us how she got started in drones, the Commercial Drone Alliance, and more!

March 7, 2016

Gretchen West, Hogan Lovells senior advisor for innovation and technology, has been a vocal advocate for commercial drones, innovation, entrepreneurship, and robotics for more than a decade. Before joining Hogan Lovells, Gretchen served as vice president of business development and regulatory affairs at DroneDeploy, a UAS startup, and was executive vice president of AUVSI.

 1  What got you started in drones?

Over a decade ago, I was lucky enough to start working with AUVSI and was immediately fascinated by the potential for drones, robotics and other unmanned systems, and the ability to help shape the future of this industry. I helped write the association’s vision statement, which was about improving humanity by enabling robotics technology globally. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a statement such as that?

My experiences in the industry only got better from there. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the military, government contractors, regulators, universities, startups, commercial end-users, and more, and I look forward to what this new chapter holds for me with Hogan Lovells as we continue to work with various clients and industries to break down the barriers for success in this marketplace.

 2  What keeps you excited and interested in UAS?

While the drone industry has been around for decades, I still don’t think we’ve experienced the best of the best yet; I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. We’re seeing new types of end-users in the consumer, prosumer, and commercial markets. We will continue to see more unique applications for using drones, and using technology in general. We will finally start to achieve autonomous operations, bringing more freedom and efficiency to our everyday lives. Being able to create new paths to open up this market and broadly allow for commercial use of drones and other technologies — and having appropriate policy to match — is a great motivator.

 3   You’ve helped soft-launch the Commercial Drone Alliance — What’s it about?

After spending many years talking to the members of the unmanned systems community, I gained a sense of the gaps in representation, and this was most clear in the commercial drone industry. While many associations exist that do great work and represent various facets of the industry, the least well-represented are the commercial enterprise end-users — communities such as broadcasting, construction, inspection, mining, utilities, and more. All of these industries have a desire to use drones commercially, but all are facing severe challenges to operate efficiently. I joined forces with Lisa Ellman, a partner at Hogan Lovells in D.C., who saw a lack of end-user voices in her work with the federal government. With our team at Hogan Lovells, we recognized the need to bridge the gap between policy, technology, and innovation and focus on representing commercial end-users. Thus we launched the industry-led, nonprofit Commercial Drone Alliance, which is solely focused on representing commercial entities and reducing their barriers to entry and operation. We plan to focus on technology and create relevant policy; create and show value for these various end-user markets to ensure technology adoption; and tackle the vast public perception issue, changing the conversation to showcase the good use cases and stories about drones. We have lots more planned, but ultimately, we are building an ecosystem of partners to advance this industry collectively and aggressively and are eagerly anticipating our official launch of the Commercial Drone Alliance.
Helping set the commercial UAS agenda: West delivers the kickoff address at Drone World Expo 2015 in San Jose, CA.

 4  What is the Women of Commercial Drones group on meetup.com?  

Living in Silicon Valley, I often hear discussions about the general lack of women in technology leadership roles, but that also extends to our smaller drone community. This past fall, some conversations started about better mentoring for women in the community and getting more women engaged, but the conversations ended after the event closed. Based on the enthusiasm for the topic, those discussions need to continue in a more formal way. We set up the Women of Commercial Drones Meetup group (which is intended to be nationwide, with events hosted where there is critical mass of interest) as a first step, but more needs to be done. I’m a member of the Amelia Dronehart group, which is a wonderful forum for women operators who support each other and teach each other to be successful in this industry. The Women of Commercial Drones group will work with existing groups to make sure that a network is created for mentoring and to help women become successful in this industry. And I’m looking for active and engaged women that would like to help make this effort into something meaningful!

 5  Best moment involving a drone?

There are so many, it’s difficult to narrow down, but I suppose the first time I flew a drone had to be one of the most memorable. Finally understanding why an aerial vantage point is so special and unique compared to anything we’ve seen done before with a camera. The other most memorable drone flight? When I crashed it. It happens to all of us.

Note: A version of this interview appears in the Drone360 March/April 2016 issue.

Featured image: dreamstine.com