I grew up in Switzerland, which is often imagined as a sleepy place with lots of chocolate and not much else – but it’s an international center of science and innovation. I now live in Lausanne, which is sometimes called the ‘drone valley’: as well as Pix4D, drone manufacturers senseFly and Flyability are based here.
How did you get started in the drone industry?
I’ve been with Pix4D almost since the company’s beginning. I was the first Pix4D employee, and like Pix4D, I came out of EPFL- the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. I gained my Masters in Computer Science there, and as a master’s project, I studied the 3D reconstruction of shapes. That’s similar to what I do in Pix4D now.
Tell us about your organization and your role there.
Pix4D software uses photogrammetry to recreate reality from images. From drone images, our users can create 3D models, accurate 2D maps, and more. We also create software for flight planning and image capturing – our Pix4Dcapture app was the first drone flight app tailored for photogrammetric applications.
The company has changed a lot in the past eight years – and so has the drone industry. I began as a software developer working on Pix4Dmapper in C++ and Qt. I was Pix4D’s first employee. I moved from developing the software, to doing customer support, product management and now I manage a team of developers.
The company has grown along with my career, and over the years we’ve had to change our own internal workflows. We have around 200 staff in seven offices around the world – that’s meant new challenges and huge changes in our workflows and communication.
It can sometimes be a bit of a challenge being a woman in a male-dominated field like software development. You might think this challenge would be amplified in a male-dominated industry like drones – but I’ve almost found the opposite. There are lots of women at Pix4D, including in leadership and technical positions.
How has the drone industry changed?
When we began, most of our customers were in the mining industry, or small city surveying and were mapping relatively small areas. Now maps are getting bigger. We’ve added a lot of new features, addressing more user needs. We’ve seen more projects focused on inspection, and things like thermal mapping solar panels.
The most exciting part of my job is always hearing feedback from customers or users. I love seeing how we have helped them do a great job, or solve their problems. And often it’s the other way around – they’ve used our tools in novel ways we never could have imagined. I’ve learned so much from them.
What will change in 2020?
I think there’ll be a lot more regulations in the UAV industry. We’re already seeing them come in, things like drone registries and tighter laws. It’s something we need to look at closely in 2020. We want to ease our user’s workflows while helping them to respect the law. I guess it’s possible that tighter regulations will decrease the use of drones – but I don’t think it’s too likely. Drones have proven themselves too valuable a tool.
On the software side, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in some really exciting projects. We’ve been working on a tool that will make it possible to process really large data sets – a hundred times larger than what our software can comfortably handle today.
It’s hard to say what will come next in 2020. I couldn’t have imagined we would have ended up here when I started at Pix4D eight years ago.
In another eight years, I think we’ll be solving problems we can’t even envision.