Increasing Understanding of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Capabilities to Address Transportation Infrastructure Issues
In recent years, the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems/Vehicles (UAS/UAV) has greatly increased. The U.S. Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) had been restricting the use of UAVs to recreational
purposes or to public entities with permitted authorization to fly. However,
with a continued increase in interest and operations of UAS, including
Congressional direction, the FAA is in the process of enabling commercial use, through
Section 333 “exemption” process for commercial purposes. Additionally, approval
of newly proposed small UAS (SUAS) rules for systems under 55lbs (25kg) are
likely to take effect in 2017. With more practical uses of UAVs under FAA
permission, the adoption of UAS by transportation agencies for a wide variety
of data collection needs will continue to increase with local, state, and
federal transportation agencies. Agencies
and their partners have started evaluating and using these platforms as new
methods of data collection and analysis, ranging from vehicle accident
investigations to bridge infrastructure and roadway assessments. Through the
use and development of currently available and new sensors onboard of a UAS
platform (such as high resolution optical and thermal cameras, Light Detection
and Ranging (LiDAR), chemical sensors, etc.) transportation officials are beginning
to be able to make quantifications concerning the condition of transportation
assets more safely, objectively, and quickly than many current manual methods.
The objective of this RNS is to develop research
opportunities that enable transportation agencies to evaluate and implement
applications of UAS for transportation infrastructure assessments and other
related tasks. Although previous research has already been conducted using UAS
for transportation asset management and other purposes, the full capability of
this technology has not come to fruition due to rapidly changing technology, developing
national and local rules, and the need for more case studies for transportation
agencies to access and understand. Evolving technologies include new platforms,
reduction in costs, larger payloads, new capabilities allowing for access to
previously inaccessible areas, collision avoidance, flying in swarms, and
acquisition of remotely sensed data through less expensive and smaller sensors
(e.g. new thermal and LiDAR sensors). Through new national regulations, new
platforms, cheaper sensors, and more capable data analysis software, more
widespread opportunities for transportation infrastructure assessment are
becoming available, with the opportunity for more in-depth findings and
conclusions becoming available to transportation agencies.
Local, state, and federal transportation agencies will
benefit from potential research concerning UAS by acquiring access to
well-documented knowledge of new data collection and assessment methods that have
the potential to reduce transportation infrastructure assessment costs while
also increasing the safety of agency staff collecting the needed data. Furthermore,
with implementation of UAS into infrastructure assessment, transportation
agencies that incorporate these methods will be forefront on new applications
of this rapidly evolving technology. While large volumes of data are expected,
UAS have the capability to rapidly and safely collect data to meet a wide
variety of agency information needs.
Potential barriers to
implementation should also be documented, such as the impacts of expected
regulations (flying below 400 to 500 feet (122 to 152m) and only within
line-of-sight). Public concerns on privacy and safety will need to be
addressed. Currently, companies interested in using UAS for commercial purposes
are required to obtain a Section 333 exemption. However, new regulations are
scheduled to be released in 2017 that are likely to make UAS operations more
widespread. Most Previous research projects similar to this proposed research
have demonstrated the capabilities of using UAS for infrastructure assessment
to transportation agencies. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) funded
research in which the use of UAVs for transportation purposes were evaluated
for use in highway bridge, confined space, and traffic monitoring purposes. It
was determined that UAV technologies provided many advantages to MDOT in the
cost-effective assessment, management, and maintenance of its resources, while
also providing benefits to their employees and the traveling public. The Minnesota Department of Transportation
has been evaluating UAS for bridge inspections. A 2014 Caltrans report lists
eight states that have started to formally evaluate the potential applications
of UAS (these include: Dobson et al., 2014; Brooks et al., 2015; Estes, 2014;
Irizarry, 2014; Siskowski and Frierson, 2013; Barfuss et al., 2012; Judson,
2012; UTCP, 2012; McCormack, 2008).
Similarly, UAS applications have been demonstrated to the
United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) under the Commercial Remote
Sensing and Spatial Information Program ()
in the application of assessing unpaved roads for distress features and overall
condition rating. The research determined that UAS could significantly reduce
the time required to assess an unpaved road, while also increasing inspector
safety and decreasing the overall costs associated with road assessments. As
for using UAVs for traffic monitoring purposes, the University of Florida and the
Ohio State University have both used fixed wing UAS to study traffic patterns. Additionally,
UAVs have also been used for many non-transportation purposes, including environmental
/ vegetation condition assessments (Turner et al., 2012; Laliberte et al., 2010),
natural disaster monitoring (Adams and Friedland, 2011), and geo-asset
monitoring (Westoby et al., 2012).
transportation agencies have had to obtain a Certificate of
Authorization to operate UAS themselves as public agencies, which has not
enabled as many uses as the new Section 333 commercial exemptions. Since UAV
platform and sensor technologies are rapidly evolving, research is proposed to
evaluate new UAS platforms and sensor technologies for infrastructure
assessment applications. Additionally,
instead of only focusing on research and development of UAV platforms, sensors,
and capabilities, this proposed research would also focus strongly on working
alongside of transportation agencies at multiple infrastructure sites to
determine the best methods for operationalization data collection processes. Development of these processes would help move
UAS technology to day-to-day operation in a safe working environment. Emphasis
would be placed on creating data directly applicable to agency needs that can
be easily implemented with wide interoperability.
1. Literature review of previous and current
UAS for transportation infrastructure research
Prior to the development of a methodology
to use UAS for assessment of transportation infrastructure issues (e.g. bridge
assessments, traffic monitoring, confined space inspections, road condition
assessments, etc.), a literature review of previous and current UAV-based methodologies
should be conducted. This thorough review should include previously published
methods and current state of the art practices. Barriers to implementation
experienced by transportation agencies and companies interested in providing
UAV-enabled services to these agencies should be document. It should also
include an overview of how remote sensing can help transportation officials in
the assessment of transportation features.
2. Details of current and upcoming regulatory
environment for use of UAVs by transportation agencies and their contractors.
Due to developing FAA regulations, it is
vital to understand when and where UAS are permitted to fly and under what
conditions and restrictions. Regulations are scheduled to change in 2017, but currently
different permits allow pilots to fly UAVs in certain designated areas (i.e.
Section 333 for commercial use and Certificates of Authorization for public
agencies). A detailed review of current and forthcoming FAA UAS regulations
will therefore need to be given to indicate how these aerial data collection
devices can be operated by transportation agencies and third-party service
3. Review of current and upcoming UAV platforms
and remote sensors
Different types of transportation
infrastructure assessments will likely require different types of UAS (such as
multi-rotor, fixed wing, and aerostat-type aircraft) that are capable of
collecting needed data. Therefore, an overview on UAS platforms that are
capable of collecting different types of infrastructure imagery and data will
be required. This overview should contain each UAS platform’s representative specifications
(i.e. type, payload, flight time, battery life, cost, etc.). Additionally, for
the proposed sensors that will potentially be placed on the UAS platform, a
review of the specifications of each sensor (i.e. type, weight, resolution,
cost, etc.) will be required, including where technology development appears to
be heading. Data volumes, formats, interoperability, and similar issues will
need to be reviewed. This overview will help transportation officials
understand what types of data analysis is feasible for different transportation
4. Regional outreach efforts to gain
understanding of interests and concerns by transportation agencies in using
As part of the analysis, outreach efforts
with local and state transportation agencies will be required to gain
understanding of interests of transportation agencies in using UAS. These
outreach efforts could potentially exist as scheduled meetings, demonstrations,
and/or training efforts to local transportation agencies.
5. Field case studies – working demonstrations
of UAV applications through regional outreach
In relation to Task 4, through regional
outreach efforts it is suggested that working demonstrations at transportation
infrastructure sites should occur through coordination with DOT inspectors and
personnel. These demonstrations could coincide with data collection in the
field benefiting both the transportation agency and research team and should
indicate to transportation agencies that the research team is knowledgeable
about the subject and in the field. As demonstrated by Brooks et al. (2015),
the use of UAVs for infrastructure assessment can be conducted safely in active
construction zones. Furthermore, it has also been demonstrated that
high-resolution imagery can be used to create three-dimensional models of
infrastructure, in which quantitative information can be extracted from, such
as amount of spalling on a bridge deck or the severity of potholes affecting a
gravel road. For further development in the use of UAVs for transportation
infrastructure assessment, development of additional quantitative models that
incorporate and combine additional sensing technologies (e.g. LiDAR and thermal
infrared) should be focused on. By combining optical, thermal, and LIDAR technologies
in field case studies, qualitative and quantitative understanding of
transportation infrastructure will be improved. A series of these working
demonstrations at transportation agency sites around the country would result
from this task.
Upon successful demonstrations to transportation agencies
that help indicate the potential benefits of incorporating this type of
assessment into daily analyses, training in the use of UAS for these purposes
will need to be given in order for full implementation into transportation
departments. Depending on the level of data collection and data processing required,
training in flying UAS, how to access UAS services, collection of high-quality data,
and processing of data into day-to-day work processes can take a while for full
implementation. Each transportation agency would need to be knowledgeable in
UAS regulations and whether they want to operate them or work with third-party
service providers in the commercial sector. Additionally, the transportation
agency would need to know where flights can and cannot occur (i.e. currently
flights cannot occur within five miles of an airport without explicit
For dissemination of the study’s results, potential products
A report for State DOTs that overviews the current state of UAV
and remote sensing technologies, additional applications to consider, options
for deployment and steps that should be taken to ready their agencies for
future implementation (or steps that need to be consider for piloting the
technology), and an overview of rules and regulations that must followed for
safe UAV operations.
A set of accompanying case studies that provide a detailed overview
of UAV deployment for specific applications – including transportation
infrastructure planning, coordination, data collection, etc. and background
into how rapidly changing UAV technologies can be potentially implemented into
these suggested accompanying case studies.
user-friendly, periodically update web resource that documents the state of
technologies, developing rules, and case study results.
Through both development of practical applications such as infrastructure condition assessment, and sharing of knowledge with transportation agency officials, the applications of UAS can potentially be implemented into asset management and operations procedures. By incorporating UAS into meeting data collection needs, transportation agencies will have the ability to implement new data collection and assessment methods that have the potential to reduce costs while also increasing inspector safety. It is vital that transportation agencies are knowledgeable about current and future UAS applications and regulations, as well as the capabilities of different platforms and sensors that are becoming more widely available with greater capabilities.
|Sponsoring Committee:||AED50, Information Systems and Technology
|Research Period:||12 - 24 months|
|RNS Developer:||Colin Brooks Phone 734-604-4196|
|Source Info:||Adams, S.M., and Friedland, C.J., 2011. A survey of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) usage for imagery collection in disaster research and management. 9th International Workshop on Remote Sensing for Disaster Response, 8 pgs. |
Barfuss, S.L., Jensen, A., Clemens, S., 2012. Evaluating and Development of Unmanned Aircraft (UAV) for UDOT Needs. Utah Department of Transportation Research Division Report No. UT-12.08. 49 pgs.
Dobson, R., Colling, T., Brooks, C., Roussi, C., Watkins, M. and Dean, D., 2014. Collecting Decision Support System Data Through Remote Sensing of Unpaved Roads. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2433: 108-115.
Brooks, C., Dobson, R.J., Banach, D.M., Dean, D. Oommen, T., Escobar-Wolf, R., Havens, T.C., Ahlborn, T.M., Hart, B, 2015. Evaluating the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Transportation Purposes. Michigan Department of Transportation Final Report No. RC1616. 201 pgs. http://www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,4616,7-151-9622_11045_24249_52176-353767--,00.html
Estes, C., 2014. Unmanned Aircraft Use in North Carolina. Report to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee Fiscal Research Division. 28 pgs.
Irizarry, J., Johnson, E.N., 2014. Feasibility Study to Determine the Economic and Operational Benefits of Utilizing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Georgia Institute of Technology Report No. FHWA-GA-1H-12-38. 156 pgs
Judson, F., 2012. The Ohio Department of Transportation and Unmanned Aircraft Systems. LiDAR Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 5. 4 pgs.
Laliberte, A.S., Herrick, J.E., Rango, A., Winters, C., 2010. Acquisition, or thorectification, and object-based classification of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery for rangeland monitoring. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 76(6), 661-672.
McCormack, E.D., 2008. The Use of Small Unmanned Aircraft by the Washington State Department of Transportation. Washington State Department of Transportation Report No. WA-RD 703.1. 27 pgs.
Siskowski, D. and Frierson, T., 2013. Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for AHTD Applications. Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department Contract TRC-1104.116 pgs.
Turner, D., Lucieer, A., Watson, C., 2012. An Automated Technique for Generating Georectified Mosaics from Ultra-High Resolution Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Imagery, Based on Structure from Motion (SfM) Point Clouds. Remote Sensing, 4(5), 1392-1410.
Westoby, M.J., Brasington, J., Glasser, J.F., Hambrey, M.J., Reynolds, J.M., 2012. Structure-from-Motion photogrammetry: A low-cost, effective tool for geoscience applications. Geomorphology, 179, 300-314.
University Transportation Centers Program (UTCP), 2012. Development of UAV-Based Remote Sensing Capabilities for Highway Applications. February 2012. 2 pages.
|Index Terms:||Drone aircraft, Permits, Data collection, Sensors, Inspection, Laser radar, |
Data and Information Technology
Bridges and other structures