In 2012, the seven university consortium, including Michigan Tech, was awarded the first National University Rail Transportation Center (NURail) by the USDOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). The University of lllinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) leads the consortium.
The primary objective of the NURail Center is to improve and expand rail education, research, workforce development, and technology transfer in the U.S.
Advances in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology have enabled these tools to become easier to use and afford. In a budget-limited environment, these flexible remote sensing technologies can help address transportation agency needs in operations, maintenance, and asset management while increasing safety and decreasing cost.
This project tested and evaluated five main UAV platforms with a combination of optical, thermal, and LiDAR sensors to assess critical transportation infrastructure and issues such as bridges, confined spaces, traffic flow, and roadway assets.
A State of the Practice report was completed, and a series of lab testing were accomplished to ensure practicality and safe operations. Field demonstrations were completed at bridges, pump stations, and conferences. The project team gave a series of technical demonstrations at the Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress in Detroit in September, 2014, enabling outreach to a wide domestic and international audience who gained understanding of the advanced research that MDOT is funding. These demonstrations showed that UAV technologies provide many advantages to helping MDOT cost-effectively assess, manage, and maintain its resources, providing benefit to staff and the traveling public.
A copy of this report can be found on the Michigan Department of Transportation website.
Through Phase I of MDOT’s “Evaluating the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Transportation Purposes” project, the Michigan Tech combined project team was successfully able to plan, demonstrate, and document UAV capabilities in the assessment of transportation assets.
With the rapid development of UAV’s, MDOT has requested additional research concerning their use for transportation asset management. The work plan of the MTU combined team includes:
Collect data from the UAV platform using sensing technology in near-time (as real-time as can be achieved) demonstrating, developing, and implementing storage capabilities of large amounts of data, usage of data, and application development that complements current data usage and application at MDOT.
Provide data collection from UAVs to the MDOT Data, Use, Analysis, and Process (DUAP) project that meets the quality, low latency delivery and data format requirements.
Provide a report that describes and recommends optional methods to store and distribute potentially large imaging, point cloud, and 3D surface datasets created through UAV-based data collection.
Demonstrate, develop, and implement high-accuracy simultaneous thermal/photo/video/Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) measurement using a high-fidelity sensor-fused UAV positioning approach.
Demonstrate the capabilities to complete aerial remote sensing data collections to meet MDOT mapping and construction monitoring needs. Coordinate with MDOT Survey Support to identify pilot projects and meet data delivery needs satisfying MDOT requirements for spatial data collection as it pertains to data density, absolute and relative 3D positional accuracy.
Demonstrate, develop and implement uses of data collection from UAV(s) and sensors for operations, maintenance, design, and asset management.
Demonstrate, develop and implement enhanced testing of UAV-based thermal imaging for bridge deck structural integrity.
Compare data collected from UAV sensors to current data collected and systems used at MDOT for highway assets/operations.
Demonstrate, develop, and implement systems management and operations uses.
Provide a benefit/cost analysis and performance measures that define the return on investment as a result of deploying UAVs and related sensory technologies for transportation purposes.
Secure a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Certificate of Authorization (COA) to complete the tasks and deliverables.