Do you know how many things drones can do for highways?

Keeping an eye on the state of traffic seems essential during holiday periods, when there are often congestion and complications on the highway. Up to now, only helicopters took care of this vigilance from the air, but now drones have come along to lend essential support in these control jobs.

In Spain, for example, the Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT) used 39 drones in the summer of 2021 throughout Spain, with the exception of the Basque Country and Catalonia, two regional autonomous communities that exercise their own control of traffic.

According to the DGT, these drones can detect dangerous driving and observe traffic in points where there is a high risk of accidents, as well as on other roads where there is a high number of cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. They also provide support on special occasions like holidays and vacations, where there is huge activity on the roads, and lend support in emergency situations that affect traffic and drivers.

But controlling highway traffic is not the only use for drones. Civil engineering also benefits from these devices, which can help in the building of roads and highways.

Drones offer a series of advantages for this sector. For example, they can make a rapid study of highways, produce more precise cartography, and carry out better studies of the terrain, in addition to providing higher quality and more exact data. And all this helps reduce construction costs. According to a study by the Corporación Tecnológica de Andalucía (CTA) through its LAS-ROADS project, it is estimated that drones reduce by more than 25% the cost, and by as much as 10 times the duration, for tracing highways, roads and bridges.

In Norway, for example, they’ve been using these un-piloted vehicles for some time to build roads and highways. And the government says it has been possible to reduce costs thanks to these devices. What previously would have taken five days of field work with traditional methods of surveying the terrain before building roads is now reduced through the use of drones to just one hour.

“We use the data from the drones to see the amount of stone and sand that’s moving inside and outside,” says Gry C.S. Kjellsmoen, chief engineer of Statens vegvesen, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. “We also use it to control the information and check that it’s correct.”

For this engineer, the reliability, flight speed and processing time of the drones that they use makes it possible to draw up regular orthophotographic maps with which to determine more precisely the costs of building those roads.

Something else that is facilitated by the drones is the creation of orthomosaic maps, thanks to the images that they record, and even to create 3D maps that help even more in the precision of road construction. And not just there but also in the maintenance of these infrastructures once they’ve been built. The smoothness and maneuverability of the drones help to easily identify the areas of construction that need repair. Besides identifying and locating that damage, the drones can also deliver small tools and equipment for their repair. In this way, the condition of the pavement that is deteriorating can be continually supervised, controlled and improved.

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