NY’s Thruway Authority and NUAIR to test drone inspections of state highway infrastructure

drones infrastructure inspection

The New York State Thruway Authority, which manages New York’s 570-mile toll highway system, says it will begin testing drone technology for infrastructure inspections in partnerships with UAV nonprofit organization Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR).

The New York State Thruway Authority announced the trial project on Thursday. It will examine the efficiency, safety, operational, and cost advantages to be gained in using drones for inspection of infrastructure like roads, bridges, culverts, and overpasses. The advisory, technical, and craft support offered by NUAIR –  and grants provided by the Empire State Development fund ­– means the initiative will cost the Thruway nothing, while potentially providing an array of benefits if the UAV tests give rise to permanent use.

If that happens, the Thruway plans to deploy drones in the mapping and surveying of its entire highway system. That will include UAVs cataloging inventory and infrastructure, documenting damage and repairs, and facilitating general maintenance activities. Field testing is expected to begin in the coming weeks, and continue through spring of next year.

“Using drone technology to inspect bridges, overpasses and infrastructure along our entire system is an imaginable game-changer,” said Thruway executive drector Matthew J. Driscoll. “Drones can provide views of hard-to-reach locations quickly and safely. This pilot program aligns with the Thruway’s vision of maximizing technological innovation and continuing to improve infrastructure for the future.”

As elsewhere in the country, Thruway infrastructure inspection has been and still is carried out by humans using whatever access and evaluation assets are required for the job. Flying drones to reach tricky spots under bridges, on the sides or pillars of overpasses, or around embankment sections of roadways will not only eliminate the need and cost of scaffolding and lifts, but also provide high-quality images at very close range.

“Flying a drone to scan a bridge is a lot safer than the traditional means of using a snooper truck, both for the crew inspecting the bridge and for motorists,” says NUAIR CEO Ken Stewart. “Couple that with faster, more cost-effective inspections, it’s a win-win for the crew, the local economy and New York State as a whole.”

The organizations will work together in two project phases. They’ll first determine performance, data collection, and safety requirements and procedures for using drones in infrastructure inspections. Once those have been determined, the partners will examine and select field testing sites across New York’s highway system.

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