Amey using drone technology to enhance transport infrastructure service
Amey is using drone technology to enhance the service it provides across transport infrastructure.
Drones once belonged to the realms of science fiction and future thinking. Now, Amey, a highways and infrastructure specialist, is looking to use this technology to enhance the service it provides across transport infrastructure.
Sunita Dulai, head of business improvement for transport infrastructure at Amey, said: “The use of drones is one solution that we are trialling to enhance the service we provide to our clients. By using drones to investigate roads, we can deliver safer inspections by minimising the risks associated with sending people out to physically inspect a site.
“Through upskilling our teams so that they can deploy drones, we can also reduce the timeframe from initial inspection to delivering essential remedial works.”
One of the key advantages of using drones in road maintenance is that they can record the condition of a large area of a transport network as they fly overhead. Advancements in drone camera technology now allow users to take images so detailed and precise that accuracy levels of between one and five millimetres can be captured from the sky.
Sunita continued: “We’ve successfully demonstrated the first drone inspection of UK infrastructure to go beyond visual line of sight. Our drone surveyed an area of two kilometres autonomously and out of sight of the pilot, which is a huge step forward for the sector and has significant positive ramifications for local councils.
“This evolution has opened up a number of possibilities for the maintenance of long linear infrastructure, such as roads, railways and overhead power lines.”
Amey has also been working with Network Rail using drone technology. Utilising sensors on drones to collect data, which is processed via artificial intelligence and used to help diagnose faults on railway infrastructure, Amey is helping to improve the nation’s rail infrastructure – all from the air.
Back in Surrey, where Amey collects the waste from homes across four district councils, drone technology could even be considered as a way to track fly-tipping. Yet, perhaps it is drone-led pothole management that is likely to resonate with the public.
According to Confused.com, the UK’s total number of potholes reached a depth of over 30km – almost three times as deep as the Pacific Ocean – in 2019, with compensation pay-outs amounting to £2,810,306.
Furthermore, the Asphalt Industry Alliance, which commissions an independent survey of local authority highways departments in England and Wales each year, revealed in this year’s survey that councils’ highway maintenance budgets dropped by an average of 16 per cent.
Can drones, therefore, play a role in helping to reduce potholes, or at least the time it takes to identify and fix them? Kent County Council is currently seeking to answer these questions by collaborating with Amey in a trial using drone technology to survey its road infrastructure.
The trial is part of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) SMART Places Live Labs programme, a two-year, £22.9m project funded by the Department for Transport that will run until November 2021.
Kent County Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, Michael Payne, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for Kent, allowing us to have a much better understanding of the condition of our roads and assets across the county.
“With this new eye-in-the-sky technology we could have a quick and clear idea of what needs to be done, and where, meaning we will have the information at our fingertips rather than people simply reporting problems to us online.”
As drone technology looks poised to revolutionise the delivery of highways and infrastructure maintenance, Amey’s investment in state-of-the-art solutions, combined with its willingness to collaborate with local councils, is creating an environment where technology can be integrated with the UK’s most complex highways and transport infrastructure maintenance programmes.
Sunita concluded: “Through collaborating with the UK’s councils and delivering solutions that improve decision making, in tandem with creating efficiencies, we’re reshaping the highways and infrastructure maintenance model.”