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Unmanned Aerial Systems: “Eye in the Sky” Takes Flight in Louisiana

As one of the innovations under the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Every Day Counts Round 5 (EDC-5) initiative, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology allows for a bird’s eye look of a project’s progress, for instance, bridge inspection. This “eye in the sky,” or plainly known as drone technology, benefited Louisiana during its most-talked-about incident in 2018—when the Sunshine Bridge in St. James Parish was indefinitely closed after a barge crashed into it. Drones were used by DOTD inspectors to assess the bridge for damage and if/what repairs were needed. In this case, bridge inspection was taken to greater heights, and UAS improved the safety of the inspection crew as well as motorists.

DOTD inspectors used drones and other UAS technology to inspect the Sunshine Bridge. (Source: DOTD)

UAS Benefits

The benefits of UAS are countless. Not only does it assist in incident management during floods, vehicle crashes, and emergency response, it also keeps workers out of harm’s way.

Other benefits, as mentioned by UAS experts across the nation, include: (1) accelerated collection of data when surveying; (2) consistent mapping and isolation of problem areas before an emergency occurs; and (3) increased efficiency in emergency response and recovery operations.

With the help of LiDAR and drone technology, DOTD consultants surveyed a 41-mile section of I-10, between I-49 and the Acadia/ Jefferson Davis parish line, for an upcoming cable barrier project. (Source: DOTD)

DOTD’s Aviation Section Takes the Lead

For the Aviation Section of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), UAS solutions provide a fresh viewpoint in ensuring that all UAS activities in the state’s airspace are undertaken safely and responsibly.

“We have formed a committee that coordinates efforts deploying the UAS technology and the work we do with EDC,” DOTD Aviation Director Bradley Brandt shared.

On the other hand, the use of UAS has helped many local agencies and emergency response teams to capture pre-and-post-event aerial imagery to answer critical disaster questions regarding properties and assets. For example, it allowed first responders to speed up recovery efforts following the recent Hurricane Laura by using image comparisons, which ultimately provided justifications of the amount of damage incurred.

Pre-and-Post Aerial Imagery using aerial photography technology (Source: EagleView)

UAS Across the Nation

The use of UAS technology is continuing to expand across the country. A survey conducted by AASHTO found that there were 36 states already using high-definition cameras, LiDAR, and other sensors in order to improve construction inspection, bridge inspection, and incident response operations. Moreover, 24 states have been actively researching UAS use with an academic institution to expand operations. To read more about specific examples from other states, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_5/uas.cfm

Additional Resources

Check the App B4UFLY

With B4UFLY, simply open the app and select where you want to fly to see the status of the airspace selected, as well as details regarding surrounding advisories. B4UFLY is provided through a partnership between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Kittyhawk IO. Learn more on www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/where_can_i_fly/b4ufly/