By WECT Staff | October 5, 2020 at 1:04 PM EDT – Updated October 5 at 1:04 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) – The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday approved a first-of-its-kind waiver to allow the N.C. Department of Transportation to use drones to conduct inspections of bridges and other infrastructure.
The waiver allows the department to operate the drones beyond visual line of sight while conducting the inspections.
“We are pleased to be leading the way with this fantastic new tool,” said North Carolina’s Secretary of Transportation Eric Boyette. “Safety is our top priority at NCDOT, and this new system will enable us to complete inspections while better protecting our inspectors and the integrity of our bridges.”
The NCDOT is now the first state transportation agency to have been awarded such a waiver, paving the way for other states to fully use drones as tools for inspections.
The waiver application was developed in part with Skydio, the largest U.S.-based drone maker. Skydio drones are powered by on-board artificial intelligence that enables each craft to avoid obstacles in complex areas that lack a reliable GPS signal, such as the trusses beneath bridges.
Ben Spain, the NCDOT’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems program manager, said drones have been used since 2016 to conduct bridge inspections. But by enabling the drones to move beyond the pilot’s line of sight, the inspections will be able to collect more high-resolution images in difficult to see places so inspectors can better analyze the bridge’s integrity and identify possible problems.
“Inspectors will collect images using the drone instead of a snooper truck or having to suspend the inspector from the bridge,” Spain added. “They’ll be able to do these inspections quickly with minimal impacts to the traveling public, like not having to close lanes of traffic for as long.”
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