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Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems for Highway Construction (2022)

Chapter: Chapter 5 - Summary of Key Findings

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Page 28
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Summary of Key Findings." 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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Page 28
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Summary of Key Findings." 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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Page 29

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28 Summary of Key Findings This synthesis was developed to document the current state of the practice for using UAS for highway construction by state DOTs. To achieve this goal, 22 technical reports that are the results from research projects and case studies that were conducted by state DOTs were reviewed and summarized. Next, a survey of state DOTs on current practices and use cases was collected and findings reported. The results of a survey distributed to 51 DOTs, which included the District of Columbia, showed that 90% of the 48 responding DOTs have investigated the use of UAS for their opera- tions starting in 2016 and conducted proof-of-concept studies that were followed by actual implementation in practice. According to the survey, the respondents from 45 state DOTs used UAS for at least one highway construction project, and the top three applications they use UAS for are aerial surveying (72.9%), monitoring work progress (68.8%), and measuring stockpiles (54.2%). The survey results also indicated that UAS have been used for public outreach, commu- nication, highway safety, environmental documentation, and legal and claims documentation, among several other applications (the full list is provided in Chapter 3). Approximately half of the responding DOTs have staff in their organization to collect and analyze UAS data. A plurality of the respondents (47.7%) indicated that they use both manual and fully autonomous flight modes, followed by manual flight mode only (26.9%). Autonomous flight mode only is the least common use (22.3%) across all applications. The top-three selection criteria used to select the UAS platform were features such as object avoidance or path planning (26.2%), cost (24.3%), and flight time per battery (23.3%), followed by documentation/guidance for implementation (10.6%), others (8.7%), no criteria (4.2%), and “I do not know” (2.6%). Under the “others” category, respondents indicated payload, capability, camera specifications, size, parachute (safety), AOI size, quality of camera, and sensor capability. The most used sensor is digital cameras (72.7%) followed by lidar (15.2%) and thermal cameras (5.4%). Accordingly, the most used UAS data processing software is photogrammetry software (49.2%) for 3-D modeling. 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 (45.3%), cost of software (16.5%), costs asso- ciated with training (12.4%), and costs associated with hiring professionals (7.1%). The state DOTs participating in the survey noted several benefits and challenges associated with using UAS for highway construction. The major benefits reported that are associated with using UAS in highway construction include cost savings (23.1%), time savings (21.4%), improved documentation/data management (18.7%), safety (18.1%), and quality improvement (16.2%). The survey results revealed that training and workforce (22.7%), FAA regulations (23%), and the availability of funding to be invested in UAS programs (20.6%) are the major challenges or obstacles preventing their wider adoption by state DOTs. Moreover, the following areas for future study and data support were identified from this synthesis. First, current UAS data storage and transfer procedures can be improved by developing C H A P T E R   5

Summary of Key Findings 29   data storage protocols and using secure cloud-based systems. DOTs participating in this study reported worker safety as well as safety of the public as a concern when operating UAS in an active construction area or over highways and vehicles. Future research could investigate devel- oping standards and procedures for safe UAS operations. Though the most used sensors are digital cameras based on the survey results and the literature review, if the light and weather conditions are not ideal, the quality of the data may be compromised. Future studies could investigate using sensors such as lidar and comparing the results with those obtained using UAS equipped with a digital camera. The future research could survey contractors about their UAS practices and needs in UAS data and deliverables. Finally, it is critical to further inves- tigate the legal issues associated with using UAS data, such as construction workers’ privacy and the incorporation of UAS survey accuracy into contract documents (i.e., survey accuracy specifications that are technically reasonable).

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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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