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Kansas Unmanned Aerial Systems Program Begins Test Flights

kansas_bridge_kdot.jpg
State Bridge Office, ksdot.org
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A new program in Kansas is working to find ways to use drones to help with bridge and tower inspections.

The Kansas Unmanned Aerial Systems program was created to help several state agencies tap into drone technology to improve processes and save money. Test flights began this month to help the Kansas Department of Transportation’s bridge inspection teams.

UAS Director Bob Brock says using drones will help improve the safety of KDOT workers.

"We put an awful lot of manpower into each bridge inspection and have to physically put a person in the air over a moving river or even near traffic at times that may be unnecessary," he says.

Using drones to help with bridge inspections could also improve KDOT’s budget.

Brock says one inspection costs about $4600, and using an unmanned system has the potential to get the cost under $1000.

For the first test flight, a UAS operator launched a drone from a riverbank and sent it within three feet from the bottom of a bridge.

"What this was able to do during this test was be able to get underneath a large bridge that would otherwise require specialized equipment to put a person underneath that bridge in a way that was safe," Brock says.

He says they plan on doing six to eight more test flights during the next year. There are about 5000 bridges under KDOT's purview

Brock says the goal of the KDOT tests is to increase the effectiveness of the inspectors and find ways to reduce the need to put workers in potentially dangerous situations.

The UAS program uses drones from Kansas companies and collaborates with state universities for research purposes. The program is also working with the Kansas Department of Agriculture and Department of Commerce.

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Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar

 

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