Uncrewed Systems Technology 049 - April/May 2023

20 W hile she wasn’t born among robots and high technology, Noel Heiks was introduced to themat an early age. That set her on a career path as an engineer, serial entrepreneur and investor that has led to positions on the boards of companies including long-range BVLOS UAV systems developer Censys Technologies, andmade her an evangelist for the integration of UAVs with advanced sensors andmachine learning (ML). “My dad is the culprit”, she says. “He ran a business in Greenville, South Carolina, called Advanced Automation,” she says. “I started working with him when I was about 14, first as a janitor, then a drill press operator, then a blueprinter, and when I was 18 he said, ‘OK, now you can program the robots.’” Advanced Automation’s main customer was Bosch, for whom it made fuel injectors for cars, using robots served by long lines of conveyor belts to assemble them. Programming the robots involved writing code to send data over a local area network and put it into a Lotus 123 spreadsheet. “I had to figure out how to write the code, so my dad sort of threw a C++ book at me and said ‘Learn this!’” Growing up in her father’s business also made starting and running technology companies seem the natural thing to do. To prepare for that, however, she needed to supplement her early hands- on experience with further education in science and technology, which she pursued through a bachelor’s degree in physics and then a master’s in electrical engineering, both from Virginia Tech. After earning her bachelor’s, she received a practical introduction to sensor technologies during 3 years as an employee of a company that built automated processing systems for manufacturing and testing photomultiplier tubes. A return to Virginia Tech followed, The head of Censys Technologies talks to Peter Donaldson about how she sees UAVs and AI being deployed for fast, high-resolution inspections Computer visionary The Sentaero can carry a range of sensors including methane- detecting laser spectroscopy systems (Images courtesy of Censys) April/May 2023 | Uncrewed Systems Technology