More balloon news

We’ve all heard about Google’s work with driverless cars. This month’s issue of Wired Magazine includes an article titled “Google’s Wi-Fi From the Sky”. It describes their ongoing efforts to place a network of high altitude balloons around the world making wi-fi available to billions more people. It is far from complete, but the basic concept has been shown to work. Their efforts now are focused on a design to keep those balloons in the air for months rather than days. At the heart of it is Google’s data crunching abilities. They sift through all of NOAA’s streaming data on upper air currents, weather forecasts and more to automatically place the balloon at an altitude where it will remain in place rather than blowing hundreds of miles away.

Technology that lifts a  2880 cubic inch equipment box into the air and powers it with a 100 watt solar array might power a camera and modem instead. It would require a very good camera as these balloons operate between 60,000 and 72,000 feet. The equipment in my last post flew below most air traffic. This balloon flies well above most air traffic. In time, It is another way we might monitor our work zones just a few years from now.

Reserve Your Airspace Now!

During the recent ATSSA Midyear meetings in Nashville, Paul Morgan of Modern Technology Solutions spoke to the ITS Council about the potential use of drones. He told a very interested audience about the wide variety of Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) . They ran from very small planes weighing a few pounds to helicopters, blimps and inflatable towers. Payloads can run as high as 28 pounds but most are much smaller.

Mr. Morgan was not there to sell these systems but to 1) offer them as a possible solution in our industry, and 2) to recommend we get involved in the discussion of future regulations.

One state, I believe it was Utah, is already experimenting with these devices equipped with high resolution cameras for accident reconstruction. Normally they tie up a lane, lanes or an entire roadway for long periods of time while photos are taken, skid marks are measured, etc. This state is using drones instead to take video which is used later for the same purpose. It is just as accurate and serves as an exact representation of the entire accident scene. It saves time, reduces delays and should also result in fewer secondary crashes.

Other possible uses include regular work zone video for posting to project web pages. It is possible such a system could be done less expensively than a series of trailer mounted cameras.

DOTs and prime contractors might use the video to document progress on a project for payment purposes or to show deadlines are (or are not) being met.

UAS could be used for a variety of applications including video, sensors, and more. Think about uses that might fit your needs and lets’ talk about them in more detail.

In the meantime, he suggested we get involved early in the efforts to regulate drone use going forward. Currently they can only be used with a special permit. But law enforcement, DOTs, agriculture, and many other groups have plans for their use in the not so distant future. That airspace will be in high demand and our industry needs to ensure access for our needs. As a result efforts are already underway to craft regulations for their use. New laws could be in place as early as 2015.

So consider ways you may want to use drones in the years to come and reserve your airspace now!