Across the United States, state Departments of Transportation (DOT) are using or testing drones to conduct bridge inspections, accident assessments, surveys and to conduct risk mitigation. A recent report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found that 17 state DOTs are using drones in these ways, and an additional 16 DOTs are working on drone policies for their state or attempting to get drone research projects started related to infrastructure inspections. The two states with the most drone-active DOTs are Michigan and Minnesota.
Back in 2014, the Michigan DOT worked with the Michigan Tech Research Institute to conduct a study on the viability of drones and found that drones “provided a mechanism to keep [their] workers out of harm’s way,” from the risks associated with “setting up work zones, detouring traffic and using heavy equipment.” Instead, the study found that drones “can get in and get out quickly, captur[e] data in near real-time and caus[e] less distraction and inconvenience to drivers.” Additionally, the study determined that a manual inspection of a freeway bridge takes 8 hours, 4 workers, and costs about $4,600 whereas a drone can do the job with 2 people in 2 hours for only $250. You do the math. Minnesota conducted a similar study through the state as well.
The lesson? Drones should be (and are likely to become) a better option for many of the everyday tasks conducted by DOT workers. Drones can improve the quality of freeway bridge inspections and certainly lower the costs associated with those inspections. And surely drones can be used outside the state DOT context; businesses can look to drones to increase operational safety and lower costs associated with many mundane tasks.