In the western American state of Utah, drone aircraft are flying near avalanches to watch snow crashing down from mountains.
Drones are also being used in the southeastern United States. For example, in North Carolina, they are searching for endangered birds and the places they use to raise their young.
Public transportation agencies are using drones in nearly every state. That information comes the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, or AASHTO.
In a report released this month, the nonprofit group found a large increase in the use of drones over the past few years. The aircraft are also called unmanned aerial vehicles.
The association’s survey found that governments as well as private citizens have accepted the technology. They include individuals who love flying model aircraft.
In 2016, the group found that no state transportation agency was using drones every day. Now, 36 states employ certified drone pilots.
Jim Tymon is the executive director of the association. “You’ve seen the cost of drones come down significantly, and the capabilities that come along with some drones increase significantly as well,” he said.
Jared Esselman is the director of aeronautics at the Utah Department of Transportation. He says that drones are valuable for all kinds of work.
“We can predict not only snow slides, but mudslides and water runoff as the snow melts,” Esselman said. “Drones are a perfect tool for any job that is dangerous or dirty.”
In North Carolina, drones are finding the nests of endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker, reports Basil Yap. He is the unmanned aerial systems program manager at the state’s transportation department.
People once used helicopters or all-terrain vehicles to inspect for evidence of woodpeckers before building new projects. But the drones can do the job quicker with fewer problems, Yap said.
A number of states are beginning to explore how to create laws to control a flood of private drone traffic that is likely to come in the future. In Ohio, the state government is working on an air-traffic control system, called SkyVision, which would enable drones to recognize and avoid other aircraft in flight.
I'm John Russell.
Words in This Story
avalanche – n. a large amount of snow and ice or of dirt and rocks that slides suddenly down the side of a mountain
survey – n. a study or investigation
certified – adj. having met the official requirements that are needed to do a particular type of work
nest – n. a place made or chosen by a bird for sheltering its young