Look up! Drones are back in the Kent skies

10 August 2021
Image of a person in Amey PPE stood in front of a drone.

Kent County Council (KCC) and Amey, as part of the Department for Transport (DfT) funded £22.9m Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) SMART Places Live Labs programme, will see three separate drone flights taking place across the A20 near Lenham over the coming months.

Images from the identical flights will be analysed to better understand the change in condition of the landscape as well as road, power and water networks.

The first phase, carried out at the Kent Showground car park in Detling last year, looked at spotting potholes, tarmac conditions, trees and street lighting over three flights across seven months.

The flights allowed engineers to spot deterioration over time and flagged faults including cracks in the road, which were able to be measured remotely.

KCC’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, David Brazier, said: “Technology is adapting all the time and KCC is utilising this trial to be at the forefront of adjusting the way it works.

“Subject to the ongoing success of the trial, this project will allow us to monitor and maintain Kent’s vast road network remotely, negating the need for road closures to assess the condition of our roads, meaning we can keep our residents moving safely and more reliably.

“The county has a range of landscapes, from rural roads to busier main routes, all of which are crucial to Kent’s diverse economy. Understanding how this technology works and what it can do for us is essential to smarter management of our roads.”

Kent County Council is working with AmeyVTOL, Collins Aerospace and aerial film specialists Aviat Drones.

Kent Live Labs Project Manager, Carol Valentine, said: “The drones use high resolution imaging sensors and collect data to be processed into digital replicas – this means we can overlay images of the surveyed network and analyse the differences in the images.

“By flying regularly, critical changes can be identified helping us to schedule smarter remedial works on our network.

“The trial is also examining how the technology can be used for when capturing wildlife habitats, understanding any future repair works for utility company’s infrastructure whilst still using it for highway inspections. Potentially, this will further prove the case for it to be used more widely in the future.”

Simon Grundy, Technical Director of Innovation and Technology at Amey Consulting, said: “The use of drone technology is allowing us to not only plan for future highway repair works but also to understand the conditions of the local soft landscape assets and habitats that line the edges of the critical road network.”

“The ability to monitor vegetation growth and condition ensures activities can be undertake to reduce disruption that may be caused to the local community by impacts on highways infrastructure and critical utility services from overgrown or unhealthy vegetation.”

“The use of regular repeatable flights allows us to monitor change, analysing the progressive changes against historical data to support predicting trends. This in turn supports proactive and smart scheduling of remedial activities to prevent impacts on the infrastructure assets. Helping ensure that defects or potential issues are captured and dealt with ahead of the point in which they become disruptive.”

Giles Perkins, ADEPT Live Labs Programme Director said: “The use of drones for practical applications like that in Kent is showing that focusing on real problems and challenges helps us use future mobility technologies to their fullest. The need to remove workers from dangerous places right across our highway networks is a common issue and we hope that this trial moves us closer to their use becoming business as usual.”

ADEPT represents local authority, county, unitary and metropolitan Directors. The ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme is a two-year £22.9 million project funded by the Department for Transport and supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP.

Nine local authorities are working on projects to introduce digital innovation across SMART mobility, transport, highways, maintenance, data, energy and communications. Live Labs is part of ADEPT’s SMART Places programme to support the use of digital technology in place-based services.