Skip to content. Skip to main navigation.

Spring 2018

Inquiry Magazine Archive


Eye in the Sky

Professor using $770,000-plus TxDOT grant to inspect roads with drones 

Man flying drone

Using flying machines to inspect the ground? That's what a team of engineers from UTA, Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute is doing for the Texas Department of Transportation. The agency awarded the group a two-year, $770,909 grant for the project.

Led by civil engineering Professor Anand Puppala, the researchers are investigating highways and railroads through unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. They will determine how to use UAVs to perform remote sensing and collect high-definition photos while conducting pavement forensics. The team is focusing on the U.S. Highway 67 project site in Cleburne and U.S. Highway 82 near Bell in Fannin County. The UAVs also will collect data on the condition of railroad tracks and crossings in south-central Texas.

"It is safer and less expensive to use a UAV to check pavement performance characteristics because there is no need to close lanes and a person doesn't have to be on a roadway or active railroad tracks," Dr. Puppala says. "The high-resolution photos that we receive will provide as much information as an instrument on the pavement."

In addition to safety and cost, speed is another advantage to using UAVs instead of people.

"We will be able to transmit data from the UAV to a computer and process images very quickly," Puppala says. "We can then provide analysis within hours so TxDOT can make decisions immediately."

This research recently led to an additional NSF grant for remote surveys of debris in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

More articles from this issue

UT Arlington - Office of Research