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Santa Cruz's new tech frontier: drones

Krista Almanzan

Some of the biggest players in the world of drones will be meeting two weeks from now in Santa Cruz.  They’re coming for the Drones Data X Conference.

I met the event’s founders, Philip McNamara and Doug Erickson, outside a coffee shop in downtown Santa Cruz.   McNamara is a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded four companies.  He recently moved here from Ireland by way of Berkeley.

My wife attracted me first of all, but then the great mountain biking, amazing kite surfing in Waddle Creek.  It’s just amazing weather and really friendly people,” says McNamara.

Erikson has lived here for more than two decades.  He works for Vivo, a local tech company, and is the founder of the monthly Santa Cruz New Tech Meet Up

I am stoked that I actually get to get up and walk or ride my bike to work and work in the town that I love,” says Erickson.

Their love of Santa Cruz is not their only shared passion.  They both also see great potential in the city becoming a tech hub.  And  one direction they see that future going drones.

While right now commercial use is illegal in the U.S. without a special license from the FAA, McNamara believes it’s only a matter of time before the regulations catch up with the drones’ potential.

He talks of big ideas like  the drone deliveries Amazon wants to do, and things already in the works abroad where drone regulations are more lax:  like drones bringing medicine to rural parts of the world where there’s no reliable road network.

(KA) What are the limitations of getting there?

(PM) A ton of things, really.  How do you prevent a drone from crashing? how do you prevent drones from crashing into each other?  How do you know who owns a drone?  All of these areas need to be fixed. So there’s going to have to be software built and created and these are all opportunities for companies to build around this area ,

(KA) So you see Santa Cruz becoming a hub for that?

(PM) I think really think so. Either a place like Santa Cruz comes and does it or some other city will. So there’s a big opportunity here to create a drone testing zone perhaps out where it’s a rural area where you can test and deploy drones. 

And that’s why McNamara and Erickson founded Drones Data X.  The one day conference  is happening in Santa Cruz on May 1st at the Kaiser Permanente Arena.   Tickets are still available. 

The point of the conference really is to get more businesses over the hill and into Santa Cruz to see what a great place this is to live and to work,” says McNamara.

“There’s an exhibition.  So you can come in and see over 20 different companies that are displaying everything from drones to sports equipment.  Then there are speakers that will talk about drones and data and extreme sports and how they call kind of mesh together,” says Erickson.

As part of getting businesses to imagine their future here,  the conference is followed by a weekend retreat for top level executives to network, kite surf and perhaps fall for Santa Cruz.

I just think if you’re running a tech company, it can be extremely stressful to run a tech company, so having access to amazing beaches, amazing mountain biking, great kite surfing, close by.  That’s one good reason,” says McNamara.

Companies coming to the conference include Amazon Prime Air, Facebook and more than a dozen drone related businesses that could one day be household names. 


Drones Data X

Drone Demo: Thursday, April 30th 4:00pm to 7:00pm $11

Full Day Conference: Friday, May 1st 8:00am to 6:00pm $440 (check web site for early bird pricing)

VIP Weekend: by application

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.
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