NCDOT Awarded First-Ever Waiver for Drone Bridge Inspections – Drones Information


RALEIGH – Drones are the NC Department of Transportation’s newest tool for maintaining the safety of state bridges and other infrastructure.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday approved a waiver that would allow NCDOT to operate unmanned aircraft systems out of line of sight while performing bridge inspections. This approval is part of North Carolina’s participation in the FAA UAS Integration Pilot Program, which is focused on testing and enabling new innovative uses of drone technology.

The announcement makes NCDOT the first state-owned transportation company to be granted such a waiver, and paves the way for other states to make full use of drones in bridge and infrastructure inspections.

“We are excited to be leading the way with this fantastic new tool,” said Eric Boyette, North Carolina Secretary of Transportation. “Safety is a top priority at NCDOT. With this new system we can conduct inspections while better protecting our inspectors and the integrity of our bridges. “

The waiver application was developed in part with Skydio, the largest US drone manufacturer. Skydio drones are powered by on-board artificial intelligence that enables any vehicle to avoid obstacles in complex areas where there is no reliable GPS signal, e.g. B. the trusses under bridges.

Ben Spain, NCDOT’s UAS program manager, said that drones have been used to conduct bridge inspections since 2016. However, by allowing the drones to move out of the pilot’s line of sight, the inspections can collect high-resolution images in hard-to-see locations so inspectors can better analyze the integrity of the bridge and identify potential problems.

“The inspectors collect images with the drone instead of a sniffer or have to hang the inspector on the bridge,” added Spain. “They will be able to do these inspections quickly and with minimal impact on the traveling audience, such as when they don’t have to close the lanes for so long.”

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