Mary Wohnrade named a 2017 Woman to Watch in UAS for civil engineering drone work
Mary Wohnrade earned her pilot’s license at age 22, but she ended up pursuing a career much closer to the ground — civil engineering, to follow in her father’s footsteps.
And then drones happened. The availability of unmanned aircraft systems took Broomfield-based Wohnrade Civil Engineers to new heights, which, on Tuesday, led to her being named a 2017 Women to Watch in UAS by Drone360 magazine and the Women and Drones organization. Other recipients include Helena Samsioe in Sweden, whose company GLBOHE uses drones to help humanitarian agencies deliver medical supplies; and Natalie Cheung, general manager of the Intel Corp. team behind the spectacular drone light show at the Super Bowl.
“These women are rock stars of the drone world,” said Wendy Erikson, a Women and Drones adviser who also was a first round-judge for the competition. “Hearing that drones are going to be delivering medical supplies or offering new forms of entertainment and drones shows, it’s just amazing to see all the opportunities that are out there.”
Erikson said that few women are active participants in the drone world, which is why organization was created. A recent analysis of Federal Aviation Administration 2016 data by BeaconSkySurvey found that fewer than 4 percent of remote-pilot certificates were held by women. But they are out there, Erikson said, noting that 110 women were nominated to the Women to Watch list. (See the winners at drone360mag.com/WomenInUAS.)
Wohnrade said her firm began using drones after her 20-something son bought one to take video of the firm’s engineering projects. The videos were at first used just for marketing. But Wohnrade learned that the high-resolution cameras could capture large amounts of data for high-precision mapping and save the firm — and its clients — money.
“It shows me what’s on the ground, but saves me a trip. It’s basically a permanent record of everything on the ground,” said Wohnrade, who still visits sites but requires fewer return visits since she has highly detailed images of the land.
The firm has been tracking costs for 2½ years, comparing the expense of flying sites with UAS to the cost of traditional mapping, she said. “It is saving our clients roughly 25 percent on the data-collection process. And you get much better data.”
Wohnrade was among a select group of commercial firms that got a chance to fly a drone above the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, which typically doesn’t allow such activity. But in this case, the park let drones fly over the dunes to track the shifting sand and the impact on the ecosystem.
Wohnrade’s commitment to her projects helps her stand out in the drone world overall, said Constantin Diehl, president of UAS Colorado, a nonprofit group that promotes commercial drone use. “There were 30 mph winds and she was running the base station. Her team was out in the sand dunes the entire day getting sand blasted just to make sure we get accurate data.
“The main story is that she is absolutely obsessed with accuracy. She won’t take 80 percent or 90 percent,” Diehl said. “She has to have 100 percent. She’s that specific and that is what makes her great for the use of drones in her field of civil engineering and providing survey-grade quality data and results for her clients.”