Evolving Drone Technology

We haven’t talked much about drones here. Our last discussion was in June of 2014. We talked in more detail in September of 2013.

Until now, drones have been more of a curiosity than anything else. But that is beginning to change. Komatsu and Caterpillar are both exploring the use of unmanned aircraft for monitoring and collecting construction data. And it was just announced that Ford and drone manufacturer DJI have teamed up to offer a $100,000 prize for the best app to rapidly deploy drones in emergency situations from Ford trucks equipped with their Sync technology. The contest started January 10th and runs through March 10th of this year. Learn more at: http://developer.dji.com/challenge2016/ .

This is a contest we should all be interested in. Assuming they do come up with a quick and easy way to deploy and recover drones from Ford pickups, it will help more than just UN relief efforts. It will almost certainly become a standard tool in our traffic operations tool box. Certainly these will be useful for major incident response.  Drones might be used to document work zone design and maintenance. And drones with longer duration flight times may one day be used to monitor traffic in real-time. Drones are rapidly evolving from “toys” into serious ITS platforms and we should all take notice.

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!

Drones Are Coming!

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal – Constitution looked at “peaceful” uses for drones. The article referred to an ongoing study looking at uses for drones in transportation management. You can access the article here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.atssa.com/News+PR/Georgia+Tech+to+Study+Use+of+Drones+for+Monitoring+Highway+Traffic+6.7.pdf . One point the author makes is that they often know they have a problem but don’t know precisely where it starts or what the cause is. Drones are one way of addressing that issue. Another, of course, is portable sensors. Sensors work better where you know you will have problems, such as in work zones. But drones would be handy where you don’t expect problems. Just launch it near the trouble spot and begin viewing the video.  It will be difficult to get actionable data this way, but it would improve our knowledge about the situation in the field and that will help us make better decisions. The article says it will be several years before these are commonly used, but it is something to think about!