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Aerial Alabama: ALDOT’s UAS Team Wins the 2020 EDVY Contest

Aerial Alabama: ALDOT’s UAS Team Wins the 2020 EDVY Contest

Voters from Argentina to Luxembourg and everywhere in between have made their voices heard, crowning the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) this year’s competition winner.

By Luke Carothers

The Competition

After a massive 2020 EDVY contest that garnered votes from more than 60 countries worldwide, the Alabama Department of Transportation’s UAS team took the crown, edging out two stellar submissions from Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam (LAN) that featured two projects: The Northeast Transmission Waterline in Houston, Texas and Exploration Green in Clear Lake, Texas respectively.

The 2020 EDVY contest began back on March 13th, which, in a year that has pushed the conversation about the benefits of unmanned systems to the forefront, seems like ages ago to most people in the AEC industry.  Despite shutdowns, lockdowns, quarantines, and everything else that this year has given us, this award should give us something to look forward to on the horizon.

In just a few short years, UAVs, drones, and other unmanned systems have gone from a novelty hobby with a few specific uses in the AEC industry to an entire, burgeoning field of study and development.  As of this year, many firms within the industry have their own internal departments specifically dedicated to unmanned systems, and many of those that don’t outsource the same services to UAS/V companies who service engineering and construction firms.

The potential for unmanned systems in the world of engineering is limitless, and they are capable of taking the industry to previously unseen heights.  As the potential is limitless, so the uses are equally diverse.  From topographic mapping to monitoring water loss and underground shifting, the application of UAVs to problems within the industry is growing exponentially.

The Winning Video

The ALDOT UAS team’s winning submission exemplifies this burgeoning technology growth in the industry. Lasting two minutes and fifty seconds, the winning video is a compilation of projects from ALDOT over the course of a year—titled “ALDOT: A Year in Review”.

ALDOT’s UAS team was able to couple numerous breathtaking drone footage shots with an action-inducing soundtrack to display not only the natural beauty of drone-footage but also its ability to change our perspective and provide new insight that cannot be gained from the ground.  Stylized transitions serve not only a purpose of looking good, but also serve to transition the viewer from one practical application to the next.

Additionally, ALDOT’s video shows the vast range of environments in which UAS/V technology can be applicable.  By switching from shots of wide, rural projects to urban projects as well as projects over water, ALDOT’s video is yet another testimony to the variety of UAS/V applications.

UAS Team left to right: Jonathan Woodham, J.D. D’Arville, Mike Kyser, Casey Asher and Steve Brantley.

The Winners

The Alabama Department of Transportation began using drones for various projects in 2016, but it took until 2019 for the program to be official when it began assigning official pilots.  ALDOT’s UAS Manager Jonathan Woodham believes that, like other technologies, UAS/V usage faced some resistance when it first began being implemented in his agency, but people are starting to come around to it.  However, although individuals like Jonathan Woodham have understood the various applications of UAS/V technology to the field, others in the industry are beginning to buy-in to the technology and view it as another tool to help complete everyday tasks.

For ALDOT, the uses of UAS/V technology are numerous and growing.  For now, the ALDOT UAS uses drones for projects such as: construction and environmental project site monitoring, surveying and mapping, 3D modeling, traffic flow monitoring, stockpile volumetrics, natural disaster recovery, and video and still imagery.  Furthermore, team members are also training to use drones as a means of assisting bridge inspections.

The team has even used drones to find and investigate beaver dams that were causing flooding on some Alabama roadways.

According to Woodham, ALDOT establishing a UAS department has changed the way the department operates.  He notes the change in ALDOT’s ability to acquire and deliver data for both pre-construction and post-construction projects.  In a time where remote communicate and data-sharing are prime centers of focus, ALDOT’s adoption of UAS/V technology allows District Managers and other personnel to conduct their business in an easier, safer, and more efficient manner.

Additionally, UAS/V technology allows ALDOT personnel to determine stockpile quantities in under an hour when, prior to the adoption of UAS/V, the same task took multiple days to complete.  This level of efficiency speaks to the blossoming potential of UAS/V technology as a means of increasing efficiency and public safety.

Such a wide-variety of uses for UAS/V technology means ALDOT’s 5-person UAS team is constantly busy, but this isn’t stopping them from staying on the cutting edge.  In addition to constantly working to develop better ways to acquire, process, and deliver UAS data, Woodham and his team are looking to add LIDAR capabilities to their fleet in the near future.

Watch the winning video hereFor details on the 2021 contest visit www.csengineermag.com/engineering-drone-video-contest-of-the-year-2021.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.


Thank you to our 2020 partner, AUVSI.