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Thu, Nov 15, 2007

South Dakota Team Explores UAVs To Monitor Road Safety

Cheaper Costs Leading To More Applications Of Technology

Here's a story about just how quickly prices for unmanned aircraft are coming down. A scientist at South Dakota State University has won a federal grant to continue his studies of unmanned helicopters for safety inspections of dirt roads.

Until recently, UAVs and their tiny cameras cost so much that only the military could afford them... but those prices are dropping, as the unmanned vehicles gain in popularity in a growing number of applications.

Dave Huft, research manager at the South Dakota Department of Transportation, tells the Argus Leader they have become much cheaper and faster than sending out guys with hard hats and tape measures to find roads that are too narrow, banked in such a way to make curves unsafe, or otherwise substandard.

"It's making such a difference in the speed of the measurement that it's going from something that was not practical, or impossible, to something that is practical," Huft said.

Even a low-resolution image captured by a UAV could be used by a computer "trained" to recognize road damage, according to a team led by Chunsun Zhang, a remote sensing scientist at SDSU.

There are, of course, downsides to using UAVs to patrol roads.

Pilots of manned aircraft are obviously concerned, of course... but this could also be a real threat to those guys in hard hats. After all... unmanned helicopters don't require anyone to lean on a shovel.



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