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Live Labs Blog: Kent takes flight!

21 July 2021

Kent Live Labs Project Manager, Carol Valentine, talks about phase two of the drones trial running from April to November 2021.  

Along with AmeyVTOL, Collins Aerospace, and Aviat drones, we are embarking on phase two of the drone trial technology project in a bid to inspect vegetation (soft landscape) and highways assets around the network, and identify any defects in power and water utilities infrastructure around Kent.

During phase one of the trial, which we carried out in 2020 in a car park at the Kent Showground in Detling, the aim was to get a better understanding of our roads and assets, looking at potholes, surface degradation, trees and streetlighting. We carried out three flights over a period of seven months to monitor how a surface deteriorated over time, and to spot new defects. From the trial we have successfully managed to identify surface types, detect cracks, and monitor their measurements; and detect and monitor potholes. We visualised these findings using heatmaps and polygons.

Phase two of the trials are taking place along a stretch of the A20 near Lenham. Three flights will run from April to November 2021. The footage we capture from the drones will be used to better understand the health and ecosystem of the soft landscape, highways assets, and the condition of the power and water infrastructure assets in the area. This will enable us and the utility asset owners to manage assets better and help with the planning of maintenance. 

Drone platforms carrying high resolution imaging sensors will collect data to be processed into digital replicas – this means that the captured data will be overlayed across images of the surveyed network. This then enables analysis to be undertaken to identify actionable insights, supporting teams on the ground better respond to asset maintenance needs. By undertaking regular repeatable flights, change can be observed, and critical changes identified, helping to schedule smarter remedial works on the infrastructure network.

The trial will examine how effective the technology can be when used for capturing wildlife habitats, understanding any future repair works regarding utilities 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.

The first flight of this trial took place in May. Luckily the weather held off and we managed to complete the necessary flights to then be able to analyse the data – this is currently taking place. Our next flight is scheduled for mid-July (weather dependant), so we look forward to updating you all as the flights take place and we receive the data!