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January 31, 2013

Drones to Safeguard U.S. Highways and Aid Department of Transportation Workers

By Jody Ray Bennett, TMCnet Contributing Writer

A project focusing on the use of drones in helping human workers to monitor the four million miles of U.S. highways has recently received $74,984 from both the Federal Highway Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Director of CONECTEech Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology (News - Alert), Javier Irizarry, explained that the use of drones in this way would mitigate some of the danger to human workers associated with traffic, construction or surveying work.

Georgia is one of several U.S. states investigating how drones could help with emergency and transport department work and is actively competing for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s attention, as it plans to begin opening up civilian airspace in the country to drones by 2015.

Drones such as the Reaper or Global Hawk models could spend hours monitoring traffic conditions or could carry elaborate light detection and ranging (LIDAR) equipment for mapping terrain in detail. Such applications could cut the costs associated with doing the same job using helicopters.

Javier Irizarry drew an analogy between how the drones in the 2012 film Prometheus mapped a large alien base and how current drones could help with above-ground laser mapping.

With the help of an aerospace engineer at Georgia Tech named Eric Johnson, Irizarry is intent on figuring out the best role for drones. By looking at surveying, safety monitoring and traffic monitoring methods used by the Department of Transport, he hopes to find opportunities for drones to help in similar areas.

Having said all that, Georgia Tech researchers are also going to be working on the human-computer interaction element of drone deployment – including working out the best control schemes, video feeds and interfaces possible for the remote pilots. In cases where drones would make certain jobs redundant, the researchers will also be concentrating on the need for retraining the human workers the drones replace.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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