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The New Jersey Innovation Institute on the Front Lines with Unmaned Aerial Drones

 

By NJIT

Imagine those dull, dangerous, and dirty tasks required to keep critical infrastructure and environmental systems operational, healthy, and viable being more effective, efficient, economical and safer through use of autonomous unmanned aerial systems. The New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII), a corporation of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, is doing just that. 

The NJII Defense and Homeland Security Innovation Lab has teamed with Maser Consulting P.A. to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), otherwise known asdrones, for a variety of activities. NJII’s Civil Infrastructure Innovation Lab has also joined this team as it focuses on the inspection of critical infrastructure (transportation, energy, communications, dams, water and wastewater, etc.) throughout the country. 

One of the first initiatives was the use of UAVs to video inspect cell towers in Houston, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Maintaining telecommunication infrastructure during and after hurricanes is essential to the communications of emergency personnel and the peace of mind of people within the affected area. 

The NJII/Maser UAVs are playing a key role in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) crews perform initial site assessments to determine accessibility of the civil infrastructure so the telecommunications companies can assign repair crews where the most impact can be made. They also perform advanced data acquisition to assess the condition of the sites with up-to-date information to streamline repair activities. Once repairs have been made, the UAS crews can return to the site and access the quality of the repairs to ensure equipment is operating at an optimum level.

In damaged areas, UAS crews are committed to safety and can perform video inspection to assess, for example, whether or not the a site is safely accessible by repair crews; if flooding would prevent them from reaching the infrastructure; and/or the condition of ground-level generators that may be submerged in floodwaters. These high-level video inspections are not only used to identify infrastructure conditions, but also to determine the necessity for more detailed follow-up inspections that may be required.

“We have teamed with Maser Consulting to have two crews on site in Houston to conduct video inspections for several major telecommunications companies,” said Retired General Bill Marshall, NJII’s Assistant Vice President, Government Affairs, Defense and Homeland Security. “We worked closely with Maser to secure the UAV pilots, create the inspection schedule and are actively monitoring progress, which so far has been excellent.”  

NJII has been a leading force in the application of UAS and UAV technology and actively involved in establishing Cape May County Airport as a demonstration hub for flying UAVs. UAVs are being developed to perform a full range of duties in many different fields. Colette Santasieri, NJII’s Executive Director of Policy and Planning Innovation for Civil Infrastructure and Environment, foresees NJII expanding its UAV work into other areas such as transportation inspections, surveillance and accident assessments; emergency first-responder operations and medical deliveries; routine utility inspections (as well as the post-event inspections); and hazardous waste contaminated site inspections.

For more information about NJII’s program contact: Bill Marshall, william.marshall@njii.com; 973-596-3430 or Colette Santasieri, PhD, colette.santasieri@njii.com; 973-642-4165.

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