Francois Gervaix, surveying product manager with senseFly in Cheseaux-Lausanne, Switzerland, has more than 20 years of geospatial experience. He regularly works with surveyors, civil engineers, public administration, GIS specialists, geologists and environmentalists seeking commercial drone solutions.
Gervaix says that all large-area applications of one hectare and above benefit from the "geometrically accurate bird's eye view" provided by drones. He often sees drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), used to optimize quarry management and map infrastructure such as road and rail layouts. A key benefit he highlights is the ability of drones to account for areas that are difficult and/or dangerous to access on food or via manned aircraft.
"It's vital to have reasonable expectations; a drone doesn't replace any one tool, it leverages many of them," Gervaix explains. "Fundamentally, it is a technology for those surveyors who are usually confined to on-the-ground techniques. However, the basic principles of precision, care and verification remain the same as with terrestrial approaches."
Q. What do you do for a living?
A. I am the surveying product manager at senseFly. Here, I collaborate closely with our R&D teams to develop high-tech drone solutions that are fit-for-purpose for use within the relevant sector. In short, we take what is a major technological achievement — the drone — and transform it into an effective commercial product. Until recently, I was also president of the Swiss Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.
Q. What is your favorite tool to work with?
A. The Earth! The real world is unforgiving — a product either works or it doesn't. It's only when you're in the field that you see if what you were saying, promoting, teaching and arguing is really valid. High-tech systems such as drones rely on a lot of interaction, meaning that a small glitch can be the difference between success and failure. This makes developing tools that are both end-to-end and sector-specific even more vital, to safeguard against the unique challenges faced by geospatial professionals and offer complete peace of mind.
Q. What is the toughest challenge you face?
Time, as you can't buy it or slow it down. In a commercially competitive environment, the success of a project is very much dependent on the ability of all parties to come together with the right solutions, within the agreed time frame, and this can sometimes be a challenge.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you've learned?
A. To have faith in your work, your colleagues and your company, and that setting long-term goals and taking swift but informed action is the key to overriding any temporary setbacks.
Q. What advancements would you like to see made?
A. I'd like to see more credit given to sustainable solutions versus short-term fixes. Although there are sometimes time pressures within businesses to achieve immediate success, people should try to take a step back and consider ways of working that will have a more substantial impact in the long run.
Q. What are your keys to success?
A. Learn all you can, gain experience and step outside of your comfort zone. As the needs of the geospatial industry continue to evolve, it will be vital for me and my team to constantly remember these three factors, as they will allow us to stay close to emerging issues and flex the way our UAVs work to ensure we're providing efficient, sector-specific solutions.