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AASHTO Survey Highlights 35 US State DOTs Testing Drones

AASHTO Survey Highlights 35 US State DOTs Testing Drones

Author: Michael Cheng   

Outside of recreation and entertainment, drones have a plethora of applications and uses. In industrial sectors, UAVs are being deployed to inspect hazardous work sites and environments, while on a commercial level, businesses are experimenting with drone-based deliveries. 

In the US, various state Department of Transportation (DOT) groups are leveraging UAVs for surveillance, real-time monitoring and data gathering.

A report released by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) suggests the practice has become increasingly widespread, with a whopping 35 out of 44 local DOT groups testing unmanned aircrafts to supplement operations.

AASHTO Survey Results

The survey, which was issued last month, expounds on a handful of interesting trends developing in the UAV space. According to AASHTO analysts, 20 state DOTs are already using drones on a daily basis. The other 15 groups are in the initial testing and research phase.

What are state patrollers and local law enforcement using quadcopters for? As you might've guessed, state DOTs (all 20 respondents using the units daily) utilize drones for surveillance. Specifically, the survey results uncovered that most deploy drones to capture images and data of ongoing construction projects, traffic control, bridge inspections and light pole maintenance.

Some state DOTs (12 respondents) are incorporating UAVs with public outreach programs and educational events.

"This is another example of how state DOTs are advancing innovation to improve safety and productivity for the traveling public," said Bud Wright AASHTO Executive Director.

"Drones are being used to significantly cut the time it takes to gather data, which is leading to major time and cost savings."

Drone Adoption on the Rise

North Carolina's local DOT (NCDOT) is one of the first adopters of drone technology for official use in the US, which started in 2013 under NCDOT's Division of Aviation. According to a 2017 study released by the group, the compact aircrafts can help state DOTs save money and time spent on emergencies and highway collisions.

During the study, officials compared a response to a stimulated crash on a busy roadway. The first group to respond was the highway patrol Collision Reconstruction Unit, which took two hours to assess the situation. On the other hand, local drone pilots only took 25 minutes to gather the same data, using three UAVs.

From a cost perspective, the traditional DOT emergency response team spent $12,900 on the stimulated investigation. By comparison, the experimental drone team spent $3,600 on the mission. Such positive results add weight to real use cases for quadcopters.

Moving forward, the NCDOT has proposed to expand its drone use. The group is collaborating with several businesses specializing in drone deployment, such as Matternet and Zipline. The local state DOT wants to use UAVs to streamline medical deliveries in the area.

"What we're focusing on this spring is trying to get drones into the hands of employees in all 14 division offices in our state," said Basil Yap, manager of NCDOT's UAS Program.

"By encouraging innovation from the ground up our employees will help NCDOT discover new applications for drone technology."

Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng is a legal editor and technical writer with publications for Blackberry ISHN Magazine Houzz and Payment Week. He specializes in technology business and digesting hard data. Outside of work Michael likes to train for marathons spend time with his daughter and explore new places.
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