March 13, 2017
By Torey C. Cloud-Fallaw
The creative powerhouses of women in tech (and their impact) cannot be denied. Our female-founded team at Astral AR has personal experience with the “Glass Ceiling” (that unseen, yet unbreachable barrier keeping women and minorities from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of qualifications or achievements).
And we know also know this: the sky has no actual ceiling, cos it’s the sky!
Astral’s got the only mind-flown drones on the planet and it’s no coincidence that we were founded by a female inventor.
In our company (and a small but increasing number of other companies being founded and developed by women with hope and hustle) it means having a company structure that is distributed, networked, and transparent. “Holocratic” company design in accordance with the new ethics of business. Such a structure is super-conducive for collaboration. and minimizes competition. And it’s made us capable of growing the drones-for-good space in a legendary way via the exponential force multipliers of product and people:
Product: mind-flown drone piloting (to exponentially solve a range of humanitarian, environmental, and commercial problems).
People: minority-majority, underrepresented, woman-owned, and veteran owned.
Or, for the mathematicians out there – Moore’s Law, Metcalfe’s Law, and The Power Law. Remembering that it takes smart to know smart, Astral’s team relates to how the famously smart Mike Maples Jr. of Silicon Valley so well describes it, “Moore’s Law is about harnessing exponential technology power and Metcalfe’s law is about harnessing strong network effects, the power law is about the hyper-exceptionalism that defines successful startup creation.”
And though learning how to search for content to develop Astral’s blog sounds like a small task, what I found while attempting this search was riveting like a tool and die shop. Here’s what I found.
SEXISM IN TECH Are You Kidding me? #NOPE
Plenty of women in the tech industry are aware of the real and recurring challenge of being listened to and professionally complied with by male coworkers – beyond the sum of our body parts. I’ve seen and heard friends express their frustration about being drowned out and spoken over in meetings, being underestimated as a manager, patronized, gawked at, and even actively sabotaged. When a female begins to get comfortable enough around male colleagues to be considered a “friend” there’s often an element of risk or letdown in a society of persistent sexual harassment and sex stereotypes.
The motivating factors of “male-pattern behavior” in – let’s face it – a society built on favoring men, are a discussion for another time. But – it’s a fact that when conducting a seemingly eternal Google search for one single, stock-footage image of a professional or fully clothed woman with a drone, I did not find one single image. I found a GIF animation of a woman using a drone to disrobe a man in order to embarrass him. And I found two objectifying images of women in drone tech at a conference. No drones, just chests of women in shirts advertising drone tech.
Female-founded companies aim to obliterate these frustrations (and do it kind of like a mind-flown drone), so…welcome to the future.
SUCCESS BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY
Speaking of the holo edge, Astral AR is on it, out in a“blue ocean” business opportunity, as the only company doing what it is doing in the space of augmented reality drone piloting. Add to this, CEO Leah LaSalla, aka Open Sorceress who, when she says “I hacked NASA with toaster” means it.
A 36-year-old founder, LaSalla spent years mastering the art of software development and experiencing firsthand (second, third-hand, etc) the realities and pitfalls of male-centered tech startup culture. And when the opportunity came to leave that company culture in the dust, Leah leapt.
Within months of LaSalla dreaming up her invention, she had secured a cofounder as well as a first investor, and then hammered out a prototype in six weeks flat. She also saw it as a prime opportunity to add to the small, but growing, number of companies organized along decentralized, lines – a”flat” coworking structure. LaSalla slowly gathered her early startup team from within an established network in the female tech and brainiac world – and has also found that amazing investors keep showing up.
UP THE EGALITARIAT: DRONE BIZ PRINCIPLES
First, aiming for the equitable, Astral AR is a flat or “de-layered” organization. Allowing for a free (and frequently intuitive) flow of ideas between team members encourages more than the sum of parts. This happens with few or no levels of middle management between entry-level staff and executives.
Second, recognizing the determination and intellectual drive of the underrepped and underestimated and realizing that this is a force that “innovates the innovators.” Licensed pilot & aerobatic expert Cheryl Cessna was an early investor in LaSalla’s vision – and Backstage Capital’s “triple threat” Arlan Hamilton just backed the company’s Bridge Round. And guess who made Astral AR official affiliates and SMEs? FEMA and the U.S. National Guard, because of the fact that AR drones are the best hope for optimizing disaster management strategies for max lifesaving. We were promptly asked to take part in the top-secret Cascadia Megaquake Drill and to fly with the Black Hawk transport helicopters.
Third, Astral AR knows how to move with agility in developing drone technology to exponentially speed most everything that public drones can do. Such as disaster relief, environmental remediation, ecological surveys, firefighting, high-risk worker safety, and public safety to name a few applications.
Using robotic enhancement to optimize drone assistance, this invention does not replace human jobs: it increases worker safety and mission capacity. For example, our “Annie” drone fleets, designed to patrol wide areas of oceans and large lakes – and report information back in real-time (we use the term “real-time” a lot when describing what our drones do with augmented, shared reality). When the Annie drone finds a survivor, it deploys a payload of a life raft for six, along with water bottles and packaged MRE/food bars – and stays with survivors until human teams arrive. This basically revolutionizes Search and Rescue for downed aircraft, fishing vessels, passenger ferries, and anyone lost at sea.
HELL OR HIGH WATER
In the development of life-saving and humanitarian drone tech, LaSalla’s earliest notions have taken on a life of their own. The team has had its fair share of fans, volunteers, and temporary help while filling itself out – along with the normal “churn” of figuring out its c-lev and directors. LaSalla’s mission for Astral AR is to go – literally – above and beyond just the manufacture of drones and drone technologies. As she puts it, “Rather than just solving one problem, Astral AR invented an industry.”
Drone pilots an experience augmented reality, telepresence flight – freedom to fly in full immersion without being dependent on handheld device, in reciprocal relationship with the drones customized sensors and automations. This allows for lightning-fast information surveying, decision-making, and crew safety in tasks which presently are perilous and frequently take many hours, days, or even months or years.
Google invented the collective consciousness. Astral AR invented being in two places at once. Yes, you read that right.
DRONE USE CASES IN THE REAL WORLD
Consider the “Charlie” fire-fighting drone, capable of flying directly into a raging apartment fire in order to collect information and report back in real time. Charlie gathers intelligence such as chemical composition of smoke and can detect human life. Or the “Medusa Swarm,” a project supported by FEMA’s Emerging Technology Initiative, attempts to intercept warfare directly by constructing a non-invasive wall of nuisance around mass shooter activity, and stopping bullets and rocket fire. Other iterations of Astral AR’s drone platform can optimize wildlife rescue, endangered species monitoring, resource reclamation, and even assisting in cleaning the windows of a skyscraper or repairing a radio tower.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
“I cannot work on what I cannot see.”
~ Dr. Katherine Goble Johnson, physicist & mathematician who assisted in putting the first U.S. astronaut into outer space.
Per the federal government, women make up 57% of the workforce in the country right now. 26% of people involved in computer and mathematical operations are women. The National Center for Women in Technology reports that half of women leave their tech positions at mid-level. Why is this?
The “Glass Cliff” is described as follows, according to Forbes:
“…‘the glass cliff’ research has found that women tend to be appointed to leadership positions under very different circumstances than men.”
To summarize: women in this industry have an asymmetric challenge ahead of them. We tend to be assigned to the most difficult jobs and projects, most of the time by men who think we will fail or who dismiss our leadership in order to maintain the argument that females are not capable. I have seen the women I love work tirelessly to repair projects that were undermined in order to discredit them.
When females succeed despite these roadblocks, that success tends to be swept under the carpet. If you are a global majority woman/WOC, if you are not heteronormative, etc etc – you negotiate an even more hostile workplace culture.
How did Leah LaSalla and Astral AR work to address this alarming/outrageous social setup? It’s simple: we started our own thing, intent on diversity, transparency, and saving the world (Astral AR’s humble motto).
This story’s for you, girls and women everywhere! Remember: #BeLegendary.
And this song’s for you too: https://vimeo.com/48543175 (Jill Scott’s “Golden”)