UVM Advanced Drone Technology Taking Off

By Rachel Aragon | raragon@nexstar.tv

Published 08/26 2016 06:45PM

Updated 08/26 2016 09:43PM

UVM is helping preserve and rebuild the state's infrastructure thanks to advanced drone technology.

UVM's Spatial Analysis Lab has been around since the 1980's, but in the last few years the lab has taken off with the addition of high-end mapping drones.

"So these are much more expensive than the ones you buy your kids to play around with or you yourself play around this," says Lab Director Jarlath O'Niell-Dunne. 

He says the lab uses the drones to map out 3D images of bridges, including the one under construction in Waitsfield. 

"It may look like just a picture of a model, but what's different is that we can actually make measurements with it," says O'Niell-Dunne. 

It's measurements that can monitor potential structural defects.

"We can monitor them more efficiently, we can do it more often and hopefully make the necessary repairs before something happens," says O'Niell-Dunne. 

These days, the team of about 45 students and staff has branched out. They're contracting with public and private agencies mapping everything from solar projects to local airports.

But the key to these cutting edge drones is they fly themselves. 

"We'll tell it the area that it needs to map and then once we launch it it's operating entirely autonomously. So it's doing what we told it to do," says O'Niell-Dunne.  

He says tremendous amount of planning goes into these self flying drones, which cost up to $50,000 a piece.

"The altitude, how much overlap we want the photos and that's really important if you want to gather imagery, not just a pretty picture but that you can use to make a map from."

UVM's Spatial Analysis Lab is largely funded by federal grants and the private sector.

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