Monday 20 September 2021
Bé: ‘Thanks to you I now know about photogrammetry. What does it entail exactly?'
Mila: ‘Einstein said it already: a picture is worth a thousand words. That is the essence of photogrammetry. We use images, especially aerial photos, to map everything. An image provides so much information, and we can observe change over time with it. I now mainly use images to make maps of land and urban development. I first came into contact with the use of images after graduating, and I have been working with photogrammetry ever since. I still think it's amazing how many possibilities it opens up.’
Bé: ‘Can you give an example of how you use those possibilities?’
Mila: 'A major project that I've been working on over the past five years is its4land. I led a consortium of eight partner organisations from European and African countries, coming from academia and the commercial sector. The idea was to map the land and link it to property rights. Only 30 percent of all land worldwide has been properly mapped and registered in land registers. Our goal was to develop land tenure recording tools that are cheap, fast and easy to use. The UT’s role was to acquire images with drones. We then developed algorithms to automatically extract property boundaries and buildings from those images. This way we tried to speed up the classical way of manual digitisation usually used for mapping.'
Bé: 'What are you most proud of when you look back on that project?'
Mila: 'The project shows that our technology works. I really believed in the idea of using drone imagery for this task, and we succeeded. We were able to overcome all practical obstacles. We worked with technology that was not or hardly accepted in some countries. Five years ago, we bought expensive drones, and we really had problems to import them to African countries. Some people also were scared they would lose their jobs due to the new technology. We have proved that this is not the case. Now our method is taught in Rwanda, where students learn how to use drones and how to use the images to make maps. That is very important to me, that you ultimately help people with that these innovative methods and techniques.'
Bé: ‘I can totally relate to that. In my conversation with Theo Toonen I emphasised that too: people always come before technology. The connection between people has to be good, then you can move forward.’
Bé: 'Another thing I'm curious about: you started your career in Bulgaria, which is where you are from. What brought you to the Netherlands?'
Mila: 'I was actually very happy with my career, until I hit the limits of my development. In Bulgaria it is difficult to try out new techniques. You have to request permission from the government for all new data that you want to collect, and there is little money available for photogrammetry. The Netherlands has an open data culture in which a lot is shared. And we have access to so much geospatial data that you can use freely. As a researcher, that gives me more opportunities. A colleague sent me the vacancy at UT at the time which changed the direction of my life and carreer development.’
Bé: ‘How has that change of direction worked out?'
Mila: ‘This place suits me well. I gained a lot of knowledge and practical experience in Bulgaria with the use of images, which I can now share with students here. The ITC Faculty also has an excellent reputation in using photogrammetry, so it is a good match. And the academic path turns out to be the right choice for me. My grandfather used to say: Mila, you should be a researcher. I think he was right.’
Bé: ‘Why did your grandfather say that?"
Mila: 'Because I was always studying, haha! While other children would play, I would study. And I was always inquisitive about everything. Now I know he was right. If like me you like to use and combine innovative methods, science is the best way to go. I believe I can develop well here.’
Bé: 'The ITC faculty is still outside the campus, but you'll be heading this way soon. How do you like that?’
Mila: ‘I had mixed feelings about it in the beginning, got used to the idea. Let me start by stating the positive. It will undoubtedly bring us new opportunities in collaboration with other faculties. Because it helps if you are closer together and feel as part of the family. The smaller building will take some getting used to. But if I see how we have adapted to hybrid working or even working from home in the past year, that won't be a problem.'
Bé: ‘Are you looking forward to going back to campus?’
Mila: 'If it really can be done safely, and both teachers and students feel safe, I want to go back to in person teaching. As a teacher, you want to give students the best. And it's nicer for students too. I think education has suffered the most from the corona situation. At the same time, it has also yielded a lot for my own research and projects. I have more focus at home and have produced so much more than I usually do working in the office. I'd like to keep that productivity. And recently, I've organised and attended a number of online conferences. It is not easy, but great that you can also receive people who normally do not have the means to participate.’
Bé: ‘How have these times changed your teaching?’
Mila: 'We try everything to ensure interaction and to maintain students’ focus. For example, we have adjusted the lesson duration and we alternate between entire online lectures and videos that we record in advance and which we discuss online later. It took quite some effort, but we also have recordings that we can reuse for years to come, which has the added advantage that students can rewatch lectures, have increased time for reflection, and possibly take more courses simultaneously.'