Drones in Transportation Engineering
Drones have become increasingly popular over the years, with an estimated one million drones given as gifts (for recreational use) this past Christmas in North America . A similar increase in the use of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for commercial and research purposes is evident, including the application of drones and accompanying technologies within the transportation engineering field. While UAVs present professionals with new methods of field data collection, there are both advantages and limitations to their use.
Applications in Transportation Engineering
Driver Behaviour Monitoring
This application of UAVs was recently deployed by the University of New Brunswick to monitor a newly installed roundabout in Fredericton . The research team was able to monitor driver behaviour, driver compliance with signage and pavement markings, and general facility use patterns. Video footage of new facilities can also provide insight into the design of future road facilities.
Roadway Construction Sites
Monitoring safety on roadway construction sites can be difficult given the dynamic nature of the construction site. While the use of stationary or mountable video cameras is possible, this represents a costly and inflexible solution. The flexibility provided by the use of UAVs to evaluate both driver behaviour and site personnel safety allows for more frequent monitoring and provides professionals more opportunities to address safety issues.
Both professional engineering firms and research groups are creating new applications for UAVs in order to improve traffic simulation. Graduate engineering students at the University of Toronto have constructed new traffic maps using UAV video footage in order to produce commercial traffic apps . Georgia Tech is similarly working with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to improve their transportation systems through the implementation of 40 different tasks using UAVs .
UAVs can collect aerial footage as a virtual surveying tool to create 3D maps. These maps can assist in designing transportation infrastructure and reviewing current infrastructure. This method of creating a 3D model is less costly and faster than other traditional surveying methods. As a result, a number of new companies now offer software that enables the conversion of UAV video footage to 3D maps .
Advantages of UAVs
As demonstrated, UAVs are increasing in popularity in numerous ways to collect data for transportation projects. This comes as a result of their relatively low cost compared to similar video camera or site inspection systems. UAVs are easily manoeuvrable and can be positioned at any angle to collect data where other methods can be limited based on camera height and angle. Depending on the facility, finding a suitable location to mount a video camera may not be possible. UAV video footage can be collected in high resolution, proving especially helpful for collecting geospatial and contour data. There are many advantages of using UAVs as a low-cost, efficient method of collecting transportation data to apply to studies or projects. Although the benefits of this technology are clear, there are also challenges associated with using UAVs for transportation engineering applications.
Limitations and Challenges of UAVs
Regulations and Insurance
To determine if permission is required for the use of UAVs, Transport Canada has created a flow chart to indicate the precautions that need to taken by a person or company . If a UAV is used for research or work, that individual or company must apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada or seek out the services of another organization already holding the SFOC. Obtaining necessary permissions and clearance for the use of a UAV near live traffic may take several weeks. Fireseeds North Infrastructures encourages anyone looking into drone-use (recreational or commercial) to go to the Transport Canada website to review the current rules and regulations governing their use.
UAVs cannot fly within 9 km of airports, heliports, or aerodromes and cannot be flown higher than 90 m, as stated by Transport Canada. Similar restrictions are in place for use in dense, urban areas. These restriction of areas where drones are permitted to operate prevent potential work that could be conducted in the transportation engineering field.
There are other restrictions that affect how the UAV is operated. While they can be automated to a degree, fully autonomous systems are not allowed as an operator must be able to intervene. Pilots must also maintain a line of sight with the drone at all times. Battery life may also be an issue, depending on the sensors and equipment mounted to the UAV.
 http://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/researchers-use-drones-to-study-fredericton-s-first-roundabout-1.2765257, http://globalnews.ca/news/2528683/drone-video-helping-fredericton-officials-monitor-smythe-street-roundabout/