Infrastructure management company Woolpert has been hired by Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) to collect drone images and data on so-called haul roads – unpaved roads – throughout the Midwest.
The project, titled “Characterization of Unpaved Road Conditions Through the Use of Remote Sensing,” is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Data will be used by researchers at Michigan Technological University to test new algorithms for evaluating road conditions, similar to the technology used in precision agriculture to determine field conditions such as levels of drought and crop health based on aerial imagery.
“The contract is to help commercialize computerized analysis and assessment of unpaved roads,” said Aaron Lawrence, Woolpert GIS expert and UAS technology developer in a press statement. “Michigan Tech has some algorithms to detect potholes, rutting, damage, etc., through high-resolution imagery and 3D point clouds, which would be used to assess and address unstable roads.”
Drones offer an inexpensive, faster and safer way for localities to evaluate road conditions. They are already used for many of Woolpert’s infrastructure projects: while the company is over 100 years old it has not hesitated to employ the new technology. Woolpert was the first surveying and aerial mapping company to receive Section 333 Exemption status from the FAA, and has been utilizing drones in several industries since December of 2014; including oil and gas surveying, construction site design, and civil engineering.
“UAS is ideally suited to smaller, rural sites,” Lawrence said. “It’s safer and it’s more cost-effective than flying individual manned aircraft missions, and in many cases we can turn around the imagery in 24 hours or less.”
Woolpert is scheduled to implement the DOT project this spring.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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