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Ohio Takes Flight Eyes in the Sky: ODOT Tests Drones for Safer, Smarter Roads


Columbus, Ohio (March 1, 2024) – Buckle up, Ohio! The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is taking to the skies with a new tool to improve traffic monitoring and incident management: drones.

“The on-board system to detect and avoid other aircraft with be supplemented with visual observers on the ground to keep eyes on the aircraft and bolster safety,” the release reads. “This is the first aircraft of its size to be approved for this type of operation, and the second in the United States approved for operations over people and traffic without a parachute. Safety will remain paramount during this trial period.”

Pioneering Approach:

  • ODOT received groundbreaking approval from the FAA to fly a large drone beyond the pilot’s line of sight (BVLOS), a first for its size.
  • This 20-pound Censys Sentaero aircraft with a 7.5-foot wingspan will be tested along a four-mile stretch of U.S. 33 between U.S. 42 and Watkins Road.
  • Safety remains paramount with onboard collision detection systems and dedicated ground observers working together to ensure a safe testing environment.

Drones can do a lot of things. Depending on the aircraft, they can be equipped with object detection and analytics, which form a critical piece in improving safety on the roadway,” said UAS Center Director Rich Fox in the release. “This is only the beginning. We’re excited to test the potential benefits and leverage this special approval to continue integrating new UAS technology into agency operations.”  

Seeing the Bigger Picture:

  • While ODOT relies on over 1,000 traffic cameras, drones offer crucial visual coverage in areas without cameras, especially during emergencies.
  • BVLOS operations allow for real-time data collection, helping ODOT identify congestion, crashes, and hazards on the road much faster.

Beyond the Road:

  • Drones equipped with specific sensors could become valuable tools for emergency responders, providing real-time data on hazards like radiation or chemical spills.
  • Search and rescue efforts can also benefit from drone-generated aerial footage, allowing teams to cover larger areas more efficiently.

Taking Flight for the Future:

  • This four-year FAA approval allows for integrating live drone footage into ODOT’s Traffic Management Center, enhancing situational awareness and improving traffic management.
  • The success of these test flights could pave the way for statewide drone use, aiding public safety and emergency response, particularly in rural areas.
  • Dates for the test flights will be announced soon.

This initiative marks a significant step forward for ODOT, showcasing their commitment to exploring innovative technologies for safer, smarter, and more efficient roads for everyone.