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Drones Help UDOT Prevent Risks From Avalanches, Inspections

Rutgers University

Drones have rapidly increased in popularity in the past few years, and according to a study from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, that includes state governments.

The Utah Department of Transportation uses a small fleet of drones to inspect bridges and highways as well as determine avalanche risk in the winter.


“We have several different types of drones currently that UDOT uses for surveying, bridge inspection, avalanche mitigation - we have a drone for every type of job," said Jared Esselman, the department’s director of aeronautics.

Esselman said by using drones, the department can save money for Utah taxpayers and keep department workers safe.

“A drone can do those dirty dangerous dull jobs where we are putting a human life at risk. Now, we can avert that risk," he said. "We cannot put ourselves or anyone else in harm’s way, and instead put this small machine.”

In the summer, Esselman said, the department takes baseline thermal and visual data of avalanche-prone mountains with the drones, then when the snow comes, they are able to compare new data to the baselines and predict where an avalanche may occur.

While many advocates for privacy are concerned by governments using drones, Esselman said at least for Utah, they never focus on people or vehicles, and delete any footage that could identify someone.