Transportation Association: Drones Could Save Money and Time, Limit Drivers’ Headaches

A new survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials finds that drones could help with road surveys and repairs, reducing or eliminating the need to close lanes of traffic. Many states have already started using the technology.

Drones are quickly becoming one of the most interesting pieces of technology out there—and in some contexts, one of the most controversial. (Just ask airline pilots.)

But in the transportation space, drones could be helpful for improving the road-construction experience, according to a new study from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), an organization that covers departments of transportation around the country. The study found that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are being used by 17 states as part of their research into traffic issues involved with congestion, bridge inspections, and vehicle crashes. Another 16 states are considering drones.

The AASHTO study also revealed that using unmanned drones could result in huge cost savings. For example, on-the-ground bridge inspections cost as much as $4,600, divided between labor, lane closures, and equipment. Drones, on the other hand, allow inspections to be done for $250—and in just two hours, compared with the eight hours it takes for a manual inspection.

Steven J. Cook, the Michigan Department of Transportation’s engineer of operations and maintenance, noted that the strategy is beneficial both to drivers and to state employees.

“A traditional bridge inspection for example typically involves setting up work zones, detouring traffic and using heavy equipment,” Cook said in a news release. “The UAVs can get in and get out quickly, capturing data in near real-time and causing less distraction and inconvenience to drivers.”

Drones are easily able to get to places that people can’t, such as under bridges or above traffic jams, and that makes it easier to assess problems facing drivers on the highways. And with some departments of transportation, including Minnesota’s, also having a say in issues facing the aviation sector, the drone discussion has proved interesting in more ways than one.

AASHTO, which released a video report along with the survey, noted that the association is planning to launch an upcoming series of webinars about the use of drones and will make them a key point of discussion at its spring meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, in May.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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