The drone whisperer

Annika Debes Vestergaard (27), drone and Data specialist - Utility, Legal and Surveying
“I’m always checking the weather forecast”

Imagine a drone pilot, if you will. In a car, always with a trunk full of gadgets, ready to collect data for 3D models and large-scale structures. In this case, it is COWI’s premier drone nerd, Annika Debes Vestergaard. Ever since she discovered drones, she has been hooked, now working on up to five different projects in a day.

Usually, the last thing I do each day is check the weather forecast for the coming day. My job depends on clear skies and little wind, so I need to know my chances of getting the drone up the next day. Obviously, the best workdays are when we can operate the drones and honour the many requests for geographical data from COWI’s different projects.

Anything can be described using a drone

I originally discovered drones and geographical information while studying biology at university, and I did my thesis on UAV (Unmanned aerial vehicle) monitoring of nature and how we can use geographical data to visualise and analyse problematic issues. It really is a technology with great perspectives: We can gather huge amounts of data in such a short time, and almost anything can be described and measured using drones.

As a drone and data specialist, I am part of a team that services COWI’s many business units. Perhaps, a project team wants geographical data about the area where they are going to build, or maybe our specialists need to evaluate the condition of a concrete bridge, which means we need to collect data on a millimetre scale.

I’m in charge of planning the routes and altitudes, deciding which drone and cameras to use, making specifications and either sending them to the drone pilot or taking out the drone myself.

Keeping the Oresund Bridge safe

Right now, I’m documenting the Oresund Bridge as part of the maintenance process. It’s a huge undertaking for our team! We capture images every day for weeks, using multiple drones, cameras and pilots, with one operating the camera and another operating the drone.

This project really demonstrates how drones and the data we collect using them create enormous value. Bridges are vital to our infrastructure and we all use them every day, so they need to be safe. Our data makes maintenance of the Oresund Bridge possible.

See Annika and her team in action at Oresund:

Drones still surprise me

So while I may not be using the biology part of my studies at COWI, I get to be a part of all the different steps in data collection: collection, processing and documenting. I’m privileged enough to work on maybe five different projects a day and I think I’ve been involved in most of our projects.

This is such a cool thing and it really shows how geographical data can be key across all disciplines in our organisation. I’m still surprised how much is actually possible with drones!

How do you define being a nerd?
“I think it’s someone who is enthusiastic about their field or hobby. It’s definitely positive! When working with data and technology, you’re part of a culture where you always want to improve. In a way, we’re all nerds at COWI.”

Which nerd do you admire the most?
“I admire most of my fellow nerds here at COWI and in my business. I love being surrounded by them every day and it fosters a culture where we respect each other’s knowledge.”

What do you want to become a nerd at next?
“I probably need to learn how to be a mom, as I’m pregnant with a future girl nerd.”

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