Arizona gets fleet of new drones through FHWA innovation program funding


The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is using funds from a federal innovation program to launch a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones that will help the agency with bridge inspections and highway surveying work.

Through a federal innovative technology grant, ADOT has purchased eight new aerial drones that will be part of the agency’s mission to enhance safety and efficiency, while shortening highway project delivery time. The grant to fund the drones is from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sponsored Arizona Council for Transportation Innovation program, which this spring approved the use of US$18,100 in federal funds and US$4,525 in state matching funds for the new ADOT UAV program. The state council was formed in 2012 as part of a FHWA program to implement innovative and efficient investments in transportation infrastructure across the USA.

ADOT says the drones will help its engineering staff safely and more efficiently inspect hard-to-reach areas on some bridges, and will also be used to perform surveying work along state highways. The drones will go into service later this year, after selected ADOT employees go through training in order to be certified as fully-qualified drone pilots.

In addition to the eight new drones, ADOT has already been operating one drone since last year for a variety of purposes, including surveying a section of State Route 88 northeast of Apache Junction that was damaged by storm runoff last year. Drone video gathered by ADOT’s Engineering Surveys Section assisted agency staff in preparing for a repair project last autumn.

“We are committed to building a culture of innovation at ADOT to improve the safety and reliability of a statewide transportation system that millions of people depend on every day,” said ADOT’s director, John Halikowski. “The drones provide us with an important tool for maintaining safe bridges.”

David Eberhart, ADOT’s state bridge engineer, noted, “State highway bridge inspections will still be done by our ground inspectors, but as an example, a drone can help our teams safely get video or photos of places that are difficult to see.”

JJ Liu, manager of geotechnical services for ADOT’s Bridge Group, commented, “Drones will play a role in surveying areas near state highways where rock fall or ground movement are potential hazards. We’re focused on the safety of the traveling public in monitoring such locations. A drone can collect photos and other information across a larger survey area while helping to keep engineers or geologists out of harm’s way.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).