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NCDOT launches national first with “tethered drones on IMAP trucks”

By Chris Stonor

Two combined North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) programs is to be the first in the U.S to launch an innovative technology trial with its road service patrol that could improve safety on North Carolina roadways, reports a press release.

The Statewide Incident Management Assistance Patrol (IMAP) program and the Division of Aviation’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program recently helped develop and deploy the operation of tethered drones from select Incident Management Assistance Patrol (IMAP) vehicles.

The release explains, “This helps responders assess incidents, provide situational awareness to the NCDOT Statewide Transportation Operations Center (STOC) and Traffic Management centres (TMCs) and assist with overall traffic management of the incidents.” The deployment of this technology came about after a federal innovation grant received in 2020.

Dominic Ciaramitaro

Dominic Ciaramitaro, State Traffic Operations Engineer, commented, “Along our interstates, where our IMAP patrols operate, there are gaps in camera coverage, so we don’t have perfect situational awareness. Our tethered drones will help us fill those gaps.”

Usually, traffic operations staff views video feeds at the STOC/TMC through traffic cameras or they receive reports from responders in the field.  Tethered drones safely offer another method to provide more information in real time, with higher quality video, and for long periods of time.

The release continues, “IMAP trucks are equipped with multiple specialised tools to assist stranded motorists or scene management with first responders. The tethered drones will be just one more resource in their toolkit.”

And goes on, “The drone can fly up to 150 feet to take video and livestream it to the STOC/regional TMC as well as to emergency management personnel at the incident. This instant information can provide a safer environment for those on scene or approaching an incident and allow the centres to better manage traffic and share more accurate traveler information to the public.” Adding, “The systems are highly portable and can be quickly launched and recovered.”

The IMAP team will trial two tethered drone systems. The UAS and IMAP program team trained the first supervisor last month. IMAP used the system within days of the training to survey a crash near the U.S. 13 and Interstate 95 interchange in Fayetteville as its first operation in the field. The drone was in the air for nearly five continuous hours.

The NCDOT’s Traffic Operations section will consider future deployment of tethered drones upon completion of the trial’s evaluation.

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