The project was inspired by Andy Lewis, traffic operations bureau director for IowaDOT, learning that other states were using drones for a quick clearance of traffic.
“Being a licensed drone pilot myself, I’m always interested in new technology and uses for that technology,” he explained in a blog post. “When I learned about states using drones to get traffic moving more quickly, I looked for ways to bring that to Iowa. It makes sense to have the Highway Helper provide this service since they are already on the scene.”
IowaDOT’s Traffic Management Center in Ankeny use live video feeds from stationary cameras to assess highway incidents and then relay information to workers at the scene to get the road cleared as quickly as possible, noted Lewis.
“By using the drone, we can quickly get a camera out to areas where we don’t currently have those stationary cameras,” he said. “The drone we’re using in Iowa City has the capability to stream live video as well as take high-resolution still photographs.”
Lewis and Autobase worked out a process to add a drone to the “Highway Helper” tool kit. “We’re always looking for ways to improve safety on the road. That includes the safety of all travelers and first responders,” said Travis Schooley, project manager at Autobase. “If we can use drones to visualize a scene and help clear it more quickly, everyone benefits.”
The footage and still images can be captured and saved for review to see if the traffic incident management principles that were used could be improved, noted Lewis.
“Using the drone provides a whole new vantage point that we’ve not had before,” he explained. “We can use it when we’re setting up a work zone to make sure all elements are positioned correctly to make the area as safe as possible. If an incident does happen, we can use the drone footage to review the road set-up and how responders worked together during the incident to make suggestions that may improve safety even more.”