Get in touch

When was the first time you became aware of the air? As the CEO of a drone transportation company, Star Simpson thinks about flight everyday. She joins the podcast to talk about her startup, ThereCraft, which uses drones to deliver lifesaving supplies to first responders and improves last-mile delivery to remote locations. She reveals a few secrets about engineering her flying vehicles of the future, and discusses what’s to come for drone technology.

Transcript

Star Simpson I don’t specifically recommend the book. Just the title. If I tell you the title, you’ll basically have read this book. The book is “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead.”

Paul Ford Ouf, wow. Yeah. Fair. [music fades in, plays alone for 12 seconds, fades out]

PF Hey, Gina.

Gina Trapani Paul.

PF I feel that, first of all, we should just acknowledge the world’s a disaster as we are recording this, but we’re going to plow through as if the world is not as disaster. 

GT I’m glad you said that because I’m distracted and we’re all a little bit distracted.

PF We’re all distracted. And we’re also all three people who fully acknowledge that while today and this weekend is particularly bad, these problems are the result of deep structural inequities in our world. And like it’s a rough week, but that’s because it’s been a rough couple of hundred years. And so I’m literally setting a calendar alert for like check -n on things in the future so that I don’t get distracted six weeks from now, when things are kind of getting back to normal.

GT Right. And forget. 

PF So look, we have someone on the program today who is a delightful human being, who you and I have both gotten to know. So that, that is one thing. But this is someone who is an expert in putting things into the sky. 

GT The miracle of flight!

PF Yeah. And I mean, this is to me because this is the last-mile problem, right? Like if you could deliver little things by drone…

GT Mhm.

PF You could really mess with how the world works, because then the robots can do everything. I’m already getting all sci-fi. But it’s great to have someone on the program who doesn’t just think about data packets moving through networks, but actually thinks about rotors spinning in space.

GT Physical things flying through space.

PF So, welcome to the Postlight Podcast, Star Simpson, the CEO of ThereCraft.

SS Thank you guys. Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

PF Okay. What is ThereCraft and what are you doing all day, Star? What are you doing?

02:03 

SS ThereCraft builds autonomous aerial vehicles. That’s the jargon, excessively long way to say “drone,” as most people think of it. I’m going to throw this out to you right away: When I say drone, like 99 times out of a hundred, people imagine like little, like, camera-carrying drones, but we build all kinds of like unusual-looking aircraft that look nothing like what you’d imagine to do stuff.

GT So not the Black Mirror episode where the drone is [Gina & Star laughs] filming you…

SS No. Yeah, no, no. We really don’t do that. Cause it’s like, it’s pretty well covered by like existing drones.

GT Right. Right.

PF Well, I think there’s really, there’s the little ones with the, with the cameras and then there’s the bad ones. There’s two drones.

GT No but then there’s Star’s drones. Tell us about your drone, Star.

PF Yes.

SS Yeah. So that’s extremely covers the like, public mindshare of existing autonomous aircraft. We do stuff that, like probably hasn’t really bubbled up into like, you know, public discussion so far, except for now on your podcast. You know, for example, we work with first responders, right. Who have a really kind of, let’s say like, unusual need around needing stuff moved. First responders in wild lands context. Right. So people who are going out to rescue somebody who may have fallen or maybe feeling some pain and need help or something like that out in the wilderness. Right. And so people, you know, these responders are going out somewhere that’s not like, it’s not a bus stop. It’s not a popular location for like vehicles to typically go. In fact, usually, you know, if someone needs help, they’re like they’re out somewhere. Right. So they have to figure out where that is. And so, you know, this is a site that’s underserved by logistics and it’s always a new target, right. It’s not a fixed location.

PF So someone goes out hiking and gets lost and is in trouble. What can you do for them? I mean, solve that problem for me. What are you doing?

04:02 

SS Yeah. So here’s the tricky part. You know, let’s say that this person is in a, you know, they’re fixed in place and the rescuers are like on the route to get to them. And here’s the trick. We are not actually usually sending something to the lost person for a variety of reasons. But you know, for one thing you don’t know exactly where they are. Let’s say for two, if it’s a person in distress, you know, you could get something very near them and still not really help them. And you don’t want to do that. So what we want to do is actually enable the first responders to do their jobs better. They’re on the way, they’re trying to find the person, they’re going to get there. They’re going to get to the person. And what we can do is, you know, if there’s, you know, only a, like a hiking trail to get to them, first responders are carrying a lot of gear and equipment. It’s heavy, it’s, you know, a hundred-pound pack, right. You can cover ground a lot more quickly if you’re not carrying a lot of heavy weight like that. So if we can stage the equipment near to the rescue site, we enable first responders to get to the rescue more quickly.

PF Gotcha. So they’re carrying a little ambulance on their backs essentially. 

SS Exactly. Yes. 

PF So tell us about these drones. And I don’t know what you can tell us at this moment. Right. But…

GT What do they look like? Are they, are there photos?

SS Oh my goodness. I love that you guys are asking this. I’m so happy. We just launched. I finally can talk about all this!

GT Excellent.

SS Yay! ThereCraft.com, the company site, which is very sparse because I’m a very busy lady, currently has kind of an illustration of our drone and how it works. And so we do something quite unusual for most of the drone sphere, not all of it, but we have made a couple of really strong technical choices, a lot of what you’ll see out there for drones, and again, this is sort of like the popular image is something that can hover.

05:50 

GT Mhm. 

PF Mhm.

SS And I’m going to try and like inject into this a little bit of like, our thinking about sort of, I don’t mean literal cost, but sort of engineering costs. When I talk about hover being really expensive, it uses a lot of energy to get a vehicle to like kind of stay in a fixed place. You pay extra for that. And so we’ve decided that in order to kind of like move quickly and make something that actually works really well, that we were going to do, what’s depicted on the website, which is our vehicle, which carries more stuff for its size than anything. You know, it kind of maximizes that. And then in order to keep that weight, you know, dedicated for stuff people need and not extra propellers, we don’t hover. We do a swoop.

GT I love the idea. It makes a ton of sense that hovering costs more and is harder. Right. It’s a helicopter versus an airplane. 

PF How much stuff can it carry right now? Like what, what are we talking about?

SS So let’s talk about mass fraction. Can I like talk about that term?

PF Hell yeah!

GT Yes!

PF That’s why we’re here.

SS Cool. Alright. Awesome. So the aircraft design is created with the idea of maximizing the amount of stuff it can carry compared to how much it weights. Right? 

PF Okay. 

SS So what that means is that the efficiency of the whole trip is really dedicated to the stuff and not to like hauling airplane around. So, you know, you might talk about mass. This is sort of like as a proportion of the total aircraft weight, and there’s a golden number in aircraft design. Usually it’s pretty hard to get an aircraft to carry as much as it weighs. Right. Which would be 50% mass fraction, half of the total airplane when it’s loaded is payload. This design actually meets that it can carry what it weighs itself.

PF Right. So typically just to restate, so typically an airplane is mostly airplane. Even if it’s a cargo plane and you have filled it up, it’s still mostly airplane. And not…

SS It’s mostly airplane, fuel, stuff, structure making the wings really strong, stuff like that.

PF And extremely non-disposable, right? Like extremely tough and designed to withstand all kinds of things because there are people piloting it. And so there’s all sorts of decisions that you have to make because there’s bodies involved.

08:03 

SS No, to be clear, we do not trade off on any of that sort of like structural goodness. When you look at the picture on our site, what you’ll see is we’ve actually pulled the wings in and kind of merge them with the body of the plane. So the whole thing is a really tough wing.

PF Oh, it’s one big wing.

GT Yeah. That’s the, and they just get the three wheels there and obviously there’s not a pilot. So, so these things carry as much weight as they weigh. That’s amazing. A 50/50 ratio is like actually much higher than I would have expected.

SS It’s really good. And, and the reason I’m approaching answering your question, which was how much does it carry this way? Is this aircraft scales from, you know, something that carries maybe a single radio to drop off for, you know, a first responder up to hundreds of pounds of gear and the same design scales up and down, and we can fit it to what’s needed and still maintain that 50% mass fraction.

PF It’s a platform. You’re building a platform for dropping stuff off in a hurry. So now, how digital is this thing? Like what’s, what’s inside that, I mean, you can, again, then you can tell us about, you know, a couple of Raspberry Pis. I dunno. [Gina laughs] Like how do you, how do you, how do you tell the drone, let me actually, even before we get to the hardware, how do you tell the drone what to do?

SS Right. Yes. I love this question. So how digital is it? The way we work with first responders… Well, first of all, you know, they know everything about what they need and so we will drop off the items at a site where they’ll be expecting it, which is selected. And I’m fortunate because at least in the early stages, we get to do deliveries into areas that are like known to be clear, wide open. And so, you know, we’re free to do the swoop maneuver with no concern, sort of precalculating in advance or anything like that.

PF So relatively flat. So are you using like, is it lat long or is there something different? Like what, how do you say “go here?”

10:00 

SS Yeah. I learned a new term, which is, uh, you know, delivery on coordinates. That’s the name of the system. So yes, GPS and altitude, of course. And then, you know, sensors on board for doing, you know, extra detection.

PF And then are you taking, is there a lot going on about the velocity of the vehicle at the and, and sort of at the time of drop-off, like, how do you factor in wind and stuff like that?

SS Oh yeah. Several answers to that. We factor in wind, there’s a wind air speed sensor on board, and you can actually calculate by looking at the amount of power you’re spending and the direction you’re going and like how well you’re making progress over the ground. You can actually use that to compute what the wind’s doing. 

PF Hmm.

SS Right. You know, like wind speed and direction. And here’s something that I’m really proud of this vehicle. Okay. So I’m going to let you in, in kind of a secret, a lot of times, drone companies launch and you see this like amazing, like, you know, eye-watering rendering of like some putative future aircraft. So we turned that on its head and the illustration on our site is actually a sketch based on our actual, like flight track, it’s frames from a video.

PF Oh nice. Okay.

SS So we’ve taken reality and like cartoon-ified it for this case. At the slowest point, right, when it’s doing that drop-off, it’s actually going no faster than you could ride a bicycle, which is again, fairly impressive for something that flies.

PF Mhm.

GT Huh. What’s the trade off with the swoop? Like, do you have to like, so I know it’s less expensive because you’re not hovering, but like, does it have to happen? Like how to trees factor in or like, do you have to find a field or, or like, what is like the space? It has to be the right space for this kind of drop off, right?

SS Yeah. I mean, this is step one. And it meets the conditions of the environment that our customers are working in. This is not like the last drone design we’re ever going to do or anything like that. But this is just, this is perfectly made to the mission as described by the people who want it. Let’s say that there’s a situation where there’s like a stick forest or something, right. 

PF Mhm. 

11:53 

SS Obviously, you don’t still have to swoop. You have a couple of other options. Like you can still get the payload delivered and through the magic of like packaging, because we’re talking about first responder equipment, right.

GT Mhm.

SS It’s possible to actually like bundle it up in a way where it’s like still going to be safely delivered. Right. That’s how that works.

PF Does the drone know where to drop off or like where’s the compute? Is the compute on the drone, or is it like back at headquarters?

SS Some of both, I could really get deep on philosophy about like where compute needs to be when for like things to work, you know.

PF For me, it’s interesting that that’s even a debate, right? Like, I don’t even know. So this, this is a big subject in drone world, which is how smart the drone should be.

SS Oh, I don’t know if it is in drone world. It is within the company. 

PF Oh, well that’s drone world. You’re in drone world. 

SS [laughs] Yes. When you automate things the way it works, always changes every single time. There’s not like a machine that mimics a human. Well, I mean, maybe there will be one day we haven’t done it yet. And I think it’s worth, it’s close enough to being reliable as a law. So to lean on that way, when you automate things, the way it works changes. So, you know, a human pilot is doing a lot of the decision making. We call that computation on board and like live spontaneously. When you have an autonomous vehicle, you know, obviously you, the person with the intent or the desire for the thing to be done are in a location and your location is not where the drone is. And so you have really your three options, which are kind of the basic one, which is like remote control, right? So like you’re standing where you are and you’ve got like sticks or a joystick or a screen or something. Right. And you’re like, now go here. Now do this. And this works for like close in where you can see what’s going on and you can react pretty quickly or where you have really, really good data links so that, you know, it’s almost like you’re really there. Right? You have to have one of those. The tricks for working with first responders is it’s not just that they go to difficult terrain. They also tend to go places where like, not served by telecoms. So what you want to do in that case, the direction we’ve gone on that, is you want to have this thing literally be autonomous. Right? You want it to be able to perform its mission with an acknowledgement, that communication link may be flaky. That said, you always want to be able to monitor. You want to know what’s going on. 

PF Mhm. 

14:14 

SS Right. So you, you absolutely like, you know, satellite link, you know, whatever it takes really is what you have to do. You get back the location information positioning though, like richly, as you know, all the data you could want.

PF Right. Cause you just can’t have your drone and be like ”going into a tunnel, talk to you in a minute!”

GT ”See you later!”

SS No way. No. No. No. That won’t fly, if I could… [Gina & Paul laugh]

PF Okay. So one day I remember you were just like, you tweeted out like “Going to LA and working on drones.” I mean, not quite in those words, but like, so tell us a little bit about like, what were you doing in the Bay Area and then what made you move to LA to work on drones and how has that gone? What have you learned?

SS Oh my goodness. I’ve learned so much. It’s just been personally really rich last couple of years specifically because of who I get to work with. So I moved to Los Angeles for one, because LA has enormous aerospace activity. You know, I don’t think this was my first impression of Los Angeles, but it’s something I’ve become very aware of. Los Angeles has built a lot of airplanes, both, you know, like secret ones, I guess, and you know, airliners, you know, I didn’t know this, but Lockheed built the, uh, passenger airline, the Elton 11, you know, going way back, Amelia Earhart used to fly out of Burbank. 

PF Hmm.

GT Oh, I didn’t realize that.

SS So all this I’ve learned and yeah, one of the coolest things is I get to work with this unbelievably great aircraft designer and he shipped, I think like 27 airplanes so far. So anyone with that much experience like you learn so much. It’s great.

PF That mean, that is just, yeah, no, I understand that. That is fantastic. Okay. So you are…

15:54 

GT You’re a pilot, right, Star? Do you fly?

SS I am a pilot. Yes. 

GT Nice.

SS I tend to fly personally. This is like I started, I started to learn to fly gliders actually, mostly because I wanted to get a better, you know, training on the streets for aerodynamics. Cause you know, it was obviously very relevant. I studied electrical engineering, which, uh, electrical engineers, they joke thinks that like load doesn’t have any mass that’s, it’s super deep engineered joke. I’m sorry, but like [Gina laughs] it’s just far outside of like touching the world in general that like, I can just be like, Oh, I’ll just take one lesson and that’ll give me like a better sense of touch at the fingertips. This was years ago. And I really liked it. I ended up completing the training course to fly gliders, which are really long winged planes that just don’t have an engine onboard. They just sort of float around.

PF Wait, how does that work? I mean, just like, just like flat out, don’t understand how that works. So you go up and you are in your glider and then what happens?

SS Yeah. So a lot happened, but interesting even in the going up part. So typically the way we do it in the US it’s different in Europe, the way we do it in US you get a really like a muscle plane, like not a muscle car, but like a really beefy airplane, like a crop dusting plane. Right. They have big engines and they’re designed to carry it, you know, a heavy amount of stuff. And you take that airplane, you get a pilot to hook up like a cable to the glider and then the airplane takes off. And then the glider takes off the kind of, you’re kind of like a kite on the end of the string for that part. And then, you know, a short time later because you know, fuel is pretty expensive, the glider releases, and then it’s just sort of floating.

PF Okay.

SS And because of the long wings and the weight, the glider is actually able to rise in the air depending on if you can find like upward going air current, and there’s enough sort of energy in the air. And I mean that in like a physics way due to like solar radiation that you can get like thermal, is that like birds soar on and that that’s enough to actually keep you in the air or even take the plane up, you know, higher than where it is.

GT So cool. Oh my god! So cool!

18:01 

PF Wait. So from San Francisco to LA, you can do that? [Gina laughs]

SS People have done that. They’re using a slightly different type of lifts, right? Upward going air lift. They usually look, I think for days where there’s a, like wind from the East that ripples over the Sierra and on the, and you know, we wingward side of the mountain, the air is going up because it can’t go through the mountain. It has to go upwards. And so the glider can sort of go along the mountain ridge.

GT Yeah.

SS As like, that’s like, that’s your highway.

PF Alright so you glowed on down. [Gina & Star laugh] 

SS In my four wheeled car on the I5, several times, yes. [Paul laughs] 

PF I mean, this is a transition, right? So you’ve gone from someone who really was a, you know, you’re a double E and you are thinking about Boolean logic and all the regular shenanigans that come with computers. 

SS All of that.

PF At what point did you make a transition and go, like, I’m going to, cause I’ve noticed this is a, you know, disclosure, right. Like I came in, I saw you at your last job, which was like a toy factory of cool digital thing. And that were being made very, very physically, like what brought you into the real world as opposed to the like purist hustle?

SS Well, partly happenstance and yeah, you got to visit me when I was working at Otherlab where I worked on a few other, fairly large research UAVs or UASs is so many acronyms. It’s the worst.

PF It’s okay. We’re there too.

SS So at Otherlab, we built a bunch of very different autonomous vehicles that all flew. We built some cargo delivery gliders that were designed to be, you know, released at a great altitude and like bring something to somebody in a very remote place, very different than what we’re doing now. They were also one time use. Right. So it was sort of like we had to use all these like unusual materials and it was very sci-fi in that way. So we built like several aircraft kind of simultaneously. It was really a rush of a job, a rush in like an excitement way, not a, not a [inaudible], but a like exciting one.

20:05 

 SS You know, Otherlab kind of does like large scale engineering R&D, they do robotics know all kinds of things. And so one of the other autonomous vehicles we built was a fairly large helicopter designed to stay in the air, like permanently, you know, to be like a kind of off field radio communication tower. It’s very hard to set up like a call tower, if you need to relay cell signals where there’s some signal or, you know, whatnot.

PF And so now you’re making things and then you’re, you’ve decided it’s drone time for real now. I’m going to LA. 

SS Oh yeah, I mean it was [inaudible] yeah. 

PF Yes. Star, here’s the thing, our audience, you know, it’s not like we do surveys, but I’m going to bet that they’re mostly oriented around programming, web technologies and making things and building software and getting mobile apps out. Like it’s most of what we talk about. Right. So let’s say, and I mean, look, God knows the minute a nerd gets some money in their pocket they go and they get one of those drones with the cameras. It happens. Like…

GT It’s part of it.

PF But let’s go past that. Let’s go past the part where you just buy gadgets in order to feel connected to things. What should people read and learn? Like where would you, if you could design a curriculum? Cause I’ve noticed, like, I remember you did Circuit Classics, which was old sort of breadboards that you could sort of get in touch with classic circuits and understand a little bit about the physical world. Where would you start people in order to start thinking more intelligently? And I don’t even want to say Internet of Things like this is not an IoT device. It’s a first responder, you know, medicine delivery system and stuff like that. Right. So teach us, Star. [Paul laughs] Tell us.

SS Sure!

PF Gina and I need to understand more about how the world works aside from our rinkydink computers, where do we go?

21:52 

SS As you know, I didn’t come into this by some sort of like childhood obsession. I’ve kind of learned a lot about aerodynamics and it’s very cool and a lot is right in front of your eyes, but it’s also kind of hard to notice. And I think that the best thing for me about the journey I’ve been on is becoming aware of the air. If that lands at all, it’s so everywhere. Right. You know, how do you talk to a fish about water? Well, I think that the question I asked myself, I actually talked to the aerodynamicists I work with too. And ask the question. When did you first become aware of the air and I’ll give you his answer, which I adored, which is he sort of thought back cause you know, being a kid, you kind of like sticking your hand out the window.

GT Yeah!

PF Mhm.

SS You know, and that feeling of pressure on your hand and you can feel that there’s something there, right.

PF That’s right. It’s not, unless you’re going fast, that’s not there. Right. So…

SS I’m not recommending doing this of course. But if you’ve ever sort of felt, you know, the air scooping into your car with the window open or like, you know, drag the fingertip across that area and you can feel that the air is like flowing truly.

GT Mhm.

PF Mhm.

SS That really put me into a different mind, which is sort of like, you know, as you mentioned, biking or driving my car, right? You come to be aware that the air is flowing around you, that there is, you know, kind of a wave on the front side of your vehicle or, you know, pressing on your helmet as you’re, as you’re moving along. And then, you know, behind you is making a tunnel through the air and the air is filling it in behind you as you go too.

PF So really thinking that way. And so when do I have to do the horrible math that I associated with everything related to aerodynamics?

SS Oh my goodness. I also associate aerodynamics with all that horrible math and, uh, I have great help with that. It’s fantastic. [Gina laughs] I don’t have a good answer for you about doing horrible math.

GT Good CEOs find good help. This is what good CEOs do.

PF That’s a good point. Delegate the math. So this is, this is brilliant. Well, I mean, look, it starts got tremendous credibility in one field, right? And so then, then she delegates some of the awful things to someone who’s really good at them, but she still has credibility. This is really…

24:00 

SS More than that, I’ve, I’ve become, I’ve become aware that when you’re very, very good as not me, but you know, people get to work with, you can actually sort of pick and choose and you know what numbers are going to matter a lot.

PF Isn’t that wild. Well, you know, the hardest part is figuring out there’s so much lore in every field. There’s so much kind of like that you take for granted. And that’s one of the reasons I asked you that question, right? It’s like when you’re interested in something and I think the internet makes it kind of easy, like you go and you’re like, Oh, I read the Wikipedia page. And then there’s that point where you’re like, I should read a book about this. And then frankly, a lot of times I just get stymied because there’s never one book there’s 5,000 and there’s always like 12 different right ways to learn something. And the right answer is probably just go take a college course, but that’s, that’s just like, I’m not wired to do that.

SS Paul, you and I are in exactly the same boat and aerodynamics is such a new field. You know, it’s really only in the last year, it’s relatively young as engineering fields go, not software obviously, but it’s so fresh. A lot of the really important here’s what really matters type of views still are in the heads of people doing the work.

PF Right.

SS I don’t know if there’s a great book out there. I wish there were. I picked up a few myself and, you know, just sort of bringing them in front of the people I, you know, work with sort of said, like, how do I make sense of this book? Like I just laid down like middle of the book, pages of calculus. It’s like, what am I looking at here? And the answer is like, Oh my, you know, I’ve looked at this, but like, you know, that’s not how I think.

PF Right. And they’re like, Star, what are you, what are you doing with that book? Come on.

SS Like I guess you could do the calculus. Sure. You know?

PF Yeah. But that’s not, that’s not what we do all day. Right. Yeah. I know. It’s really surreal because it’s sort of, you want there to be something between the, like the four year degree and knowing absolutely nothing. And a lot of times there isn’t. Like those disciplines are disciplines, right? No, no. You gotta do the work.

25:54 

SS Most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned through working elbow to elbow with people. To go way back to the beginning, my first summer internship type job was at a company called Makani power, which was doing clean wind energy with like massive flying wing. And you’re like, well, why did you end up working there? It’s because I was an electrical engineer. And I thought that like big kilowatt-type power systems were really neat. And I had no clue about anything flying, but they had people who designed wings working there. And I’d sort sorta just like, what are the, who are these people? You know, like that’s how it, my curiosity got started. That was my first taste of building something designed to actually fly, you know, and went basically from there to here.

PF So talk a little bit about your CEO responsibilities. And I’m really interested in what you’re saying here, which is that you’re not the subject matter expert, right? You’re the boss. And you don’t know as much as the people who are working with you. How do you…

SS Let me put it this way, I have a, I have a really good working understanding of aerodynamics.

PF Mhm.

SS I can kind of size and like get to a pretty reasonable understanding. I’m not going to pick up like what the exact solution is to like a shedding carmen stream off the left wing tip or something, you know, things like that. That’s not the, probably the thing I should be asked to do, but I get what it means. And I do also, you know, as far as my personal CEO job goes, there’s this stock image that I really love, which is kind of like a woman in a business suit carrying one of those like single person bands with like the big kick drum on her back and like an accordion. [Gina laughs] And like, you know what I mean? Like I can tell you guys know what I’m talking about.

PF Sure, sure.

GT Yes. [laughs]

SS I feel like I bring to bare like electrical engineering, your ability to set up processes, to like assemble our physical vehicles, biz dev talking to customers, working with the regulatory environment, applying for, you know, various contests, things like that, that we should enter our vehicles into. And I really love the job!

PF So just talking and talking and talking to human beings.

SS [laughs] Yeah! 

GT There’s not enough about all the pieces need to have the whole vision in your head and the team to fill it in. Yeah.

27:57 

PF Look, it’s startup days. You’re, you’re, it’s a small org, right? Like where, and you’re just shipping. What do you call us? Is this the alpha plane? Or like, what is the, is it the prototype?

SS The name of it is Strax. S T R A X.

PF Okay. So Strax. And what comes next? Do you keep iterating on Strax? Do you make bigger Strax’s? What’s your, what’s your plan?

SS Yeah. We are in the phase now, mainly of working with customers, doing demonstrations and, you know, making it fly, making it do the thing. It’s really, really a good place and a good time because, you know, we have shown the vehicle performs its full mission.

PF Okay.

SS And we get to do what comes next after that, so, very fun time. 

PF What do you need from the world? Like people listening, people getting in touch, what are you looking for out there?

SS I mean, we are in the very early stages, we’re growing. And I think what we’ve accomplished so far is very impressive for, you know, how long we’ve been working on it and what we’ve been working with. Like we’ve gotten quite far and quite quickly. I think what I would like people to realize is this. The top question I get asked is honestly, when are drones going to bring me X, my taco, right? That’s California, very typical. And what I want people to know is this: it’s all possible today. Right now, the things that we need to figure out together, the FAA, society, you know, people is where to begin to allow the future, this technology to take hold, because the reason why most people don’t have their taco at the snap of a finger by drone is because, you know, in the United States FAA restrictions and I think we’ve moved very slowly on creating even a site where you could begin to experiment with that as a business. So that’s the thing that I hope for. That’s the thing that I most want to see.

GT Well, people should think about drones, not as a delivery mechanism, mechanism for their package or their taco, but like what are the best use cases?

29:56 

SS Yeah. The, the popular mind, you know, outlook on drones is very personal, but I think that aircraft are likely to serve businesses first in the same way that like, you know, DHL and FedEx typically mostly work with businesses and only occasionally do they bring something to your house? Right? Drones will do the same all aircraft have in history because it just takes more resources to put something in the air than it does to bring you your groceries or whatever it is.

PF So we’re going to reframe our thinking about the ecosystem of drones and well, okay. So here’s the, here’s the last question I have, which is, is there like a magic number that people talk about where the cost of delivery, like, is there some sort of goal that everyone shares as to how much it should cost and what it should take to get a pound of something to somewhere like, or, or is it really specific to the situation?

SS Oh yeah. I love this question because that’s, as you know, you discussed about my job as CEO. That’s kind of actually the heart of it is, you know, what does it cost to go a certain distance in a certain amount of time per pound. And there’s a really neat rule of thumb that makes perfect sense to me having thought about it a little bit, which is if the item you need is urgent, where on average over however many miles, whether it’s, you know, one mile or a thousand miles, if it needs to get there about faster than you could go like 80 miles an hour. It should fly. Because above that, it takes energy to keep the vehicle on the ground. Right? This is like a car has spoilers and whatnot, trying to press it down. So at that point, just make it, just make it fly. It’ll get there. But that also describes the customers, like this is a person who needed something moved, not above the speed of sound or something, but just fairly quickly. And those are the use cases where aircraft, any aircraft makes sense.

PF So, okay. All right. That is really good. Thinking 80 miles an hour, because at the, after that the car starts to float a little bit.

SS Because the item is urgent or perishable or, you know, you just need to get very quickly.

31:54 

PF Okay, good. I now have a framework for beginning to understand the world of the drones. 

GT Thank you so much for coming onto the show Star. So good to have you. This is really fun. 

PF I just learned something for once. Instead of like talking about product, it’s just like, Oh yeah, I know. No, but we talked about…

SS Thank you guys for having me on.

PF Oh, it’s great. It’s great. [Music fades in] And if people want to get in touch with you or with ThereCraft, what’s the right way?

SS Our website has a contact form and that will be a good way to reach us.

PF And what’s the right Twitter account for people to follow?

SS You can find us on Twitter, searching for ThereCraft. 

PF Alright. Star Simpson. You’re the best. Thank you very much. 

SS Thank you! 

PF Boy. Wow. I will say though, I’ve probably known Star on and off for many years. You know how a lot of times you’re like, wow, boy, I’m really surprised to see that person succeeding. I’m not that surprised. 

GT Not surprised at all. She’s doing it. She’s out there doing it. I want to go fly. It’s good work.

PF It’s just every, every single it’s like every single thing she discussed, I’m like, that’s a lot cooler [Gina laughs] than anything I’ve ever done just, Oh, and then you glide, glide your body to LA and then you pilot the drones into live with first responders so people can live anyway. Let’s talk about react. No! Anyway, if you need us, you need hello@postlight.com. Visit our website and postlight.com. Anything else people should know? 

GT I think that’s it. Reach out. Thanks for listening.

PF Alright. Let’s get back to work. 

GT Thanks Paul.

PF Bye! [music ramps up]