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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems for Highway Construction. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26546.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems for Highway Construction. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26546.
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1   With advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and photogrammetry in the past decade, the construction industry for general buildings has been a pioneer in adopting UAS-based documentation and mapping for better managing construction projects. State departments of transportation (DOTs) began investigating these technologies around 2016, and some are actively using them for highway construction projects. However, there is no report or evidence that documents actual implementation of these technologies in practice by state DOTs. Rather, most reports that are available to the public document proof-of- concept case studies. Moreover, the state DOTs that are using UAS for highway construction need to investigate knowledge gaps to help them and other state DOTs maximize the benefits of using UAS in highway construction. The main objectives of this synthesis are to (1) document and summarize the current use of UAS by state DOTs during highway construction, (2) identify potential benefits and obstacles they face when implementing UAS in their highway construction projects, and (3) identify information gaps and suggest research topics to address those gaps. These objectives are achieved by literature review, a survey distributed to key state DOT personnel with expertise in UAS adoption and highway construction, and interviews with state DOT personnel who have implemented UAS technology in practice. A survey was distributed to 51 DOTs, which includes those in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, to achieve the three objectives. A total of 48 state DOTs responded to the survey, and the results show that 45 of them used UAS for at least one highway con- struction project, while three DOTs (the District of Columbia and states of South Dakota and New Mexico) do not currently use UAS in highway construction projects. The top three highway construction applications that state DOTs use UAS for are aerial surveying (72.9%), monitoring work progress (68.8%), and measuring stockpiles (54.2%). Half of the responding DOTs have staff in their organization to collect and analyze UAS data. The most used sensors are digital cameras (72.7%), followed by lidar (15.2%) and thermal cameras (5.4%). Accordingly, the most used UAS data processing software is photogrammetry soft- ware for three-dimensional (3-D) modeling (49.2%). Finally, the major cost factors state DOTs consider for deciding whether to use UAS for highway construction projects are cost of aircraft and sensing equipment, software cost, and costs associated with training personnel. DOTs noted benefits and challenges associated with using UAS for highway construction. The primary benefits include cost savings, time savings, and improved documentation and data management. Safety and quality improvement, as well as public outreach and media, are listed among the benefits as well. DOTs reported that training and workforce, FAA regulations, and the availability of funding to be invested in UAS programs are the major challenges or obstacles that prevent their wider adoption by DOTs. S U M M A R Y Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems for Highway Construction

2 Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems for Highway Construction The findings presented in this synthesis are aggregated from 45 state DOTs and provide an overview of the current state of the practice of UAS for highway construction. Future research could be conducted to expand the scope of work and to survey contractors about their UAS practices and needs in UAS data and deliverables. Additionally, as DOTs continue to invest in UAS data collection and processing and sharing information digi- tally, it becomes critical to further investigate the legal issues associated with using UAS data and survey accuracy specifications for contracting purposefully.

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In the last decade, new technologies have transformed all stages of highway construction as more industry stakeholders have begun incorporating new technologies into their daily construction activities.

The TRB National Cooperative Highway Research Program's NCHRP Synthesis 578: Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems for Highway Construction documents the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by state departments of transportation (DOTs) during highway construction, identifies potential benefits and obstacles DOTs face when implementing UAS in highway construction projects, and identifies information gaps to be filled that could enable state DOTs to enhance the benefits of UAS for construction-related operations.

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