Survey: State DOTs Increasingly Looking to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

A growing number of state departments of transportation (DOTs) are leveraging drone technology to improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and save money, according to a March 2016 survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

In total, AASHTO says, 33 state departments of transportation have or are exploring, researching, testing or using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to inspect bridges and assist with operations such as clearing vehicle crashes.

The survey found that 17 state DOTs – Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington – have studied or used drones.

In addition, 16 state DOTs – Alaska, Colorado, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – were either exploring drone usage, assisting in the development of drone polices or supporting drone research.

For example, in December, the Connecticut DOT used a UAV to perform inspections of the longest bridges in the state, as well as to determine the technology’s potential to improve upon or supplement bridge inspection processes.

A recent study by the Minnesota DOT (MnDOT) looked at the effectiveness and possibility of employing UAVs to aid in bridge inspections.

Cassandra Isackson, director of aeronautics at MnDOT, explains, “In addition to operating the highway system, MnDOT is in charge of aviation, as well, so we’ve been looking at drones from the perspective of commercial operators, businesses – everyone out there using them. The highway side of MnDOT has been exploring them for potential cost savings for things like bridge inspections, surveying and aerial photography.”

AASHTO’s latest poll comes on the heels of a joint survey of members of AASHTO’s standing committee on aviation and standing committee on highways. This poll, conducted in summer 2015, documented the growing interest in UAVs and was initiated from a roundtable discussion at AASHTO’s spring meeting in Cheyenne, Wyo., in May 2015.

In addition, a report by AASHTO’s Transportation TV explores the ways that state DOTs are using drones. AASHTO says it has also prepared an online fact sheet that highlights the benefits of UAVs.

The association is planning a series of webinars on the technology and will hold a peer exchange during its upcoming spring meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, where it will provide updates on the latest developments in the use of drones by state DOTs.


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