Many of us might be quick to consider drones as indicative of unwanted surveillance or military activity, and be wary of their presence around us. However, American researchers have been increasingly finding that a drone’s utility could extend far outside the political realm. In fact, it looks like these mini-flying devices could start becoming a lot more commonplace in the U.S. than we might be used to — in the name of streamlining costs and human labour.
According to new survey conducted by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials — which represents the departments of transportations in all fifty American states — 33 states have either used drones or have helped develop policies regarding their use.
Much of what states have been investigating revolves around whether drones are capable of handling jobs typically performed by humans. For example, Minnesota has tested whether they can help carry out safety inspection of bridges. With the help of a federal grant, Vermont is also investigating whether these devices can be used to monitor river flooding, or if they can determine how much material is necessary to make improvements on roadways. Massachusetts is considering their potential benefits of using drones to survey construction, but also weighing the setbacks and evaluating what kinds of threats they could pose.
Michigan, in particular, is embarking on a two-year study that stems from a 2014 study with state transportation officials and the Michigan Tech Research Institute. This study found that drones could be used for a variety of transportation tasks, including monitoring traffic, inspecting spaces, assessing bridges, among other tasks.
According to engineers, a drone can often offer a safer, cheaper alternative to human labour. However, not everyone agrees that a drone can completely minimize risk: an influx of drones can also present additional concerns for pilots, who fear that a drone flying too close to airports or flight paths could cause midair collisions.
For more on this story, visit CBC News.