Drones could help human workers safeguard the 4 million miles of U.S. highways crisscrossing the country. The flying robots could inspect bridges and roads, survey lands with laser mapping, and even alert officials to traffic jams or accidents.
One such project focused on studying the use of drones recently received $74,984 from the Federal Highway Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation. Researchers plan to spend the next year figuring out how drones could help workers as they go about inspecting and maintaining the safety of public roads and highways.
"Drones could keep workers safer because they won't be going into traffic or hanging off a bridge," said Javier Irizarry, director of the CONECTech Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "It would help with physical limitations of the human when doing this kind of work."
Georgia represents one of several states considering how civilian drones could do some jobs for transportation departments, the police and firefighters. The state is also competing to become one of several flight-test regions for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration - a step in the FAA's plan to open up U.S. civilian airspace to drones by 2015.