Get to know Propeller’s world-class team in our ongoing employee spotlight. Today, we talk to Fred Greer, who serves as hardware lead on the hardware team. Fred is based in Sydney at our Australian HQ.
What do you do at Propeller?
I run the hardware team. We make it as easy as possible to get data into the Propeller Platform. Under that, we design and manufacture all of Propeller’s hardware products: AeroPoints and the PPK solution. We also work on integrating various hardware technologies into the Platform.
What’s your career background?
I studied electrical engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. While there, I was working as a software developer at a digital agency. Afterwards, I went straight into Propeller and have been here ever since—about four years now. Richard and I are in contention for Employee Number Five. I think we started on the same day.
You’re the inventor of AeroPoints. What’s the story behind building them?
I came in for an interview with Francis and Rory. Propeller was a software company that used drone data, but don’t do any actual hardware at the time. Rory, though, had the concept of AeroPoints in his head because, in the early days, one of Propeller’s biggest struggles was getting accurate data into the Platform.
Laying out ground control was complicated. You needed specialist equipment a lot of people on site don’t have access to or don’t have the expertise to use. Because of that, the drone data being loaded into Propeller wasn’t accurately referenced enough to produce accurate models. So they explained the idea for what would become AeroPoints and asked, “Would you like to try and build this?” and I said yes.
I took it from there. I did the initial prototyping. The first AeroPoints were made out of yoga mats from the local Kmart. Some very handmade electronics went underneath and a big printed circle with a crosshair and four colored boxes went on top. We theorized we could identify AeroPoint individually based on the color combination. This was back in 2015, and it wasn’t common to have GPS tags on drone photos.
We field tested those prototypes and they worked reasonably well. Then we went through the hardware design process of getting to what we have today, which is the checkerboard on the foam. We decided not to make them unique because it was difficult to manufacture unique pattern variations. Drones were also starting to get GPS tags on their photos.
I built the first iteration of the processing back end. That’s the software that takes in all the raw GPS data from the AeroPoints, pulls in the necessary corrections, and generates the points. I also built the front end of that—the AeroPoints tab on the Platform—which is the piece of software you actually interact with when you log into Propeller and load AeroPoints data.
Then we had to get them built. Manufacturing was a really interesting experience. I’d done plenty of electronics design before, but I never had a product properly manufactured—like going to China and saying, “We need a thousand of these.” We had to find the right manufacturers, document everything, and set up the automated testing to verify they worked correctly.
Today, we have a fully automated process: the electronics are put in a jig that automatically tests every component. We record real data and upload it to our server. It’s not possible for an AeroPoint to be shipped out until they’ve uploaded real data that’s validated.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Sydney, Australia. I was born about two miles from the Propeller office in Surry Hills and grew up about three miles away. We refer to this as The Propeller Bubble. It’s very real.
Before working at Propeller, what’s the strangest or most interesting job you’ve held?
When I was working with that digital agency before Propeller, we built a lot of iPad apps for pharmaceutical companies. The strangest one I worked on was a 3D visualization of the inside of a colon. You could go on a journey through the colon and zoom in on whatever you wanted to see.
What’s your favorite Slack emoji and why?
My favorite, favorite is Ultra Premium. There was an engineer working in the Sydney office who was a big fan of anything “premium,” which generally meant overpriced. Born from that was the Ultra Premium emoji, which was his headshot with a big gold star on it. Now, when anything is done well, it will often be replied to with the Ultra Premium emoji.
Do you have an office nickname? If so, what is it and how did you get it?
I have a few. There’s Fredo, which comes from Richo and Rory. Anyone who’s proper Australian will call me Fredo because that’s just how it’s done down there. Then there’s Frid—F-r-i-d. That’s a good bit of ridicule because I have a New Zealand passport.
What’s your favorite Propeller memory?
In July last year, we went to Thailand as a whole company. Getting to know the US team and others and realizing that they’re just as amazing as the Sydney team was great. We had a whole new world of friends, thanks to that.
Any talents, secret superpowers, or fun facts about yourself to share?
I’m horrifically uncoordinated. They call me the office liability because I’ve been known to fall off stationary chairs, pieces of sidewalk, etc.
What’s one thing you wish people understood better about Propeller as a whole?
I wish people knew what a great place this is to work. Everything single member of the Propeller team is someone I like and would spend time with outside of work. Everyone’s always super eager to get involved and help solve a problem with someone else.
I’ve always been genuinely excited to come to work and that’s mostly because of the people here. The work we do is super cool and interesting, but I think we could be doing almost anything with this team and still have a good time. Can’t say that about every job.
Want to join the Propeller team? Check out our current openings.