Small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly affordable, easy to transport and launch, and can be equipped with cameras that provide information usable for transportation agencies. The Washington State Department of Transportation conducted a series of UAV tests to evaluate their capabilities while also exploring institutional issues. These tests, while exploring the general
capabilities of UAVs, focused on evaluating the use of a UAV as an avalanche control tool on mountain slopes above state highways. WSDOT’s maintenance division has an active snow avalanche control program that is designed to reduce highway closure time and hazards to motorists, and the use of UAVs was seen as having some potential operational advantages. The UAVs also captured aerial images suitable for traffic surveillance and data collection. The evaluation found that the main limitation to UAV use is institutional, particularly the need to obtain approval to fly from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This approval process will make UAV use a challenge, but these issues may change as the FAA considers new rules.