New Ohio research project will monitor traffic with unmanned aircraft and drones


The Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) DriveOhio partnership has launched a new project to study the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones to monitor traffic and roadway conditions from the air along the state’s 33 Smart Mobility Corridor.

DriveOhio was created by Governor John Kasich in January this year, as a center within the ODOT that brings together those that are responsible for building infrastructure in Ohio, with those that are developing the advanced mobility technologies needed to allow the state’s transportation system to reach its full potential. The three-year study is a partnership between the Ohio State University’s (OSU) College of Engineering and DriveOhio’s UAS Center, which is the premier unmanned aircraft support agency for the State of Ohio. The mission of the center is to support flight operations for local, state, and federal government and agencies.

The new UAS research project will include both air and ground vehicles and will complement ongoing work to test connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) along the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, which is a 35 mile-long (56km) stretch of US Highway 33 between Dublin and East Liberty. Unmanned aircraft or drones will monitor traffic and incident response along the corridor in conjunction with the state’s current fixed-location traffic camera system. The aircraft will interact with sensors and communication equipment along the corridor to feed data into the state’s traffic management center (TMC).

The project will also use sensors and communication devices to ensure the unmanned aircraft will not collide with each other or with manned aircraft, such as small planes and helicopters, that also use the lower altitude airspace. It is estimated that as many as 5,000-manned aircraft are in the sky over the study area at any given time.

The project team will be led by DriveOhio and the OSU’s College of Engineering, in conjunction with Cal Analytics, Gannett Fleming, AiRXOS (a GE venture), Gryphon Sensors, Transportation Research Center Inc., Woolpert, the Ohio State University Airport, and Midwest Air Traffic Control. The three-year research project is set to begin on July 1.

“At DriveOhio, we are looking for innovative ways to integrate technology into our transportation systems. This project will help us explore the intersection between autonomous and connected vehicles on land and in the air,” explained Jim Barna, executive director of DriveOhio. “The goal is to understand how we can better manage traffic, roadway incidents, and roadway conditions, using advanced technology and data analysis.”

Fred Judson, director of DriveOhio’s UAS Center, added, “One of the keys to better utilizing unmanned aircraft is to ensure they will not pose a threat to other aircraft traveling in the area. This research project will make the development of that safety system a priority, so that other aircraft operations, such as package delivery and air taxi services, can be explored down the road.”

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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).