The Kansas DOT wants to see if a drone can find a stranded motorist. North Carolina DOT is partnering with software companies to develop traffic management systems that track drones as they fly. Lee County Mosquito Control District in Ft. Myers, Fla., will use a 1,500-lb. drone to apply insecticide and survey pest populations.
These are a few experiments that will be conducted over the next three years by 10 successful Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program applicants (149 proposals were submitted). The program, which was announced in October 2017, partners the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with local, state, and tribal governments, which then partner with the private sector to gather data on night operations, flights over people and beyond pilot’s line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies, and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft. No federal funding is provided.
Water management districts and stormwater control commissions have used drones to measure water levels, and highway departments have used them to survey project sites. However, applications are limited by the rules of Part 107, a pilot-certification program FAA began in 2016. If these 10 integration projects are successful, federal regulations may be changed to allow nighttime and beyond-line-of-sight operation -- two factors that would make the technology even more useful for infrastructure professionals. (You'd still have to address public concerns over privacy, though.)
The 10 selectees will work with the FAA to refine their project concepts through Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) that establish each party's responsibilities and data-sharing requirements:
- Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, OK
- City of Reno, NV
- City of San Diego, CA
- Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, KS
- Lee County Mosquito Control District, Ft. Myers, FL
- Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, TN
- North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, NC
- North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, ND
- University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK
- Virginia Tech - Center for Innovative Technology, Herndon, VA
According to the non-profit Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International, the potential economic benefit of integrating drones into the nation's airspace is estimated to equal up to $82 billion and create up to 100,000 jobs.