Ohio wants to use camera drones to monitor highway traffic

Drone technology is continuing to find multiple uses beyond snapping fancy photographs from up high and shooting gorgeous tracking shots for filmmakers.

The latest initiative to hit our radar is taking place in Ohio, which will look into the idea of using the remotely controlled flying machines to monitor traffic conditions along a stretch of highway.

Such work is usually carried out by fixed ground-based cameras, but their viewing range is limited. Helicopters, too, can be called upon, but with pilot and fuel costs to consider, such aircraft can be hugely expensive compared to a diminutive, battery-powered drone.

The Ohio Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio Division, which coordinates “smart mobility” initiatives, is working with Ohio State University’s College of Engineering on a three-year, $6-million project to learn more about how drones can be used to effectively monitor traffic conditions.

The research will take place along the Smart Mobility Corridor, a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 that already hosts a range of initiatives for connected roadway infrastructure.

The planned system would see data from drones sent to the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Traffic Management Center, where it can be assessed and, if necessary, acted upon to keep traffic flowing. The ground-based cameras would continue to operate, and also be used to help build a broad picture of what’s happening on the road.

The team, however, has plenty of prep work to be getting on with before it can launch its first drone over the highway. This includes building a safe and reliable platform that would allow the drones to be flown beyond the operator’s line of sight, which, in most cases, current regulations forbid.

Ohio State professor and Aerospace Research Center director Jim Gregory promised the platform will be able to achieve its safety goals, saying, “Our collaborative work will pave the way for the ultimate vision of safe flight of unmanned aircraft systems throughout Ohio and beyond.”

Although not part of the Ohio trial, drones could also be placed at multiple points along a highway, with each one hooked up to a power cord. This would enable them to fly around the clock, albeit from a fixed position. Such technology is already available and being used in a number of settings.

Quadcopters can also be seen flying over the busy roads of Bordeaux, France, where police are using them to catch dodgy drivers. In the space of just a few months, the trial operation led to the handing out of hundreds of fines for traffic violations. Ohio’s research, on the other hand, appears to be aimed more toward spotting traffic jams, accidents, and other hazards rather than going after speedsters.

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