Georgia DOT Joins ‘Drone as First Responder’ Program

The Georgia Department of Transportation, The Ray – a nonprofit venture devoted to roadway technology testing – Georgia’s Troup County, and drone-maker Skydio are collaborating to develop what they describe as a “drone as a first responder” or DFR program along a stretch of I-85.

[Above photo by Georgia DOT & The Ray]

The Ray – a public-private-philanthropic partnership formed in 2019 – seeks to create and install a digital testing environment focused on critical interstate use cases, such as crash and weather warnings, for stakeholder engagement and education.

The first phase of this DFR program focused on an 18-mile corridor of rural interstate known as The Ray Highway, which features a “connected vehicle ecosystem” with six dual-mode and dual-active roadside radios, a number of cellular V2X or C-V2X equipped vehicles owned by the Georgia DOT connected to Panasonic’s CIRRUS cloud-based data management platform.

A Skydio drone. Photo by Skydio.

The goal of this new DFR initiative is to eventually enhance safety and emergency response capabilities in the entire West Georgia region; a rural area which hosts multiple key interstate corridors including I-85, I-185 and I-75 that provide critical freight connectivity for major Southeast manufacturing and logistics facilities.

The new DFR program includes Troup County’s Marshal Office and the county fire department, which recently received two Skydio drones and training services donated by The Ray. Commonly referred to as “first eyes on the scene,” drones can transmit photos and videos captured overhead of an incident and provide key situational awareness to police, fire, public health, and other stakeholder agencies.

DFR programs have helped agencies that are responsible for public safety and emergency management improve efficiency, response times, and overall emergency services in a variety of jurisdictions across the country, noted Georgia DOT.

“[Our] interest in safety is evidenced not only by our ongoing investment in safety, but our continued interest in efforts such as this,” explained John Hibbard, division director of permits and operations for Georgia DOT, in a statement. “At The Ray’s request, we have participated in scoping and planning this safety initiative and will continue to follow its progress and learn from the experience.”

“Drones acting as first responders bring critical capability for crisis and emergency management and are already deployed across the country in small, medium and large communities, including Chula Vista, CA and Brookhaven, GA,” noted Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray.

In the near future, she said The Ray hopes to grow this DFR operation into a “cost-efficient program” that can offer remote operation of drones as a first responder to interstates I-85, I-185, and surrounding West Georgia counties.

Drones enable rapid assessment of crashes, missing persons, animals or livestock, disasters, and hazardous situations, providing valuable data and insights to emergency response teams in a timely, efficient manner, The Ray noted – helping first responders make informed decisions and deploy appropriate resources promptly, potentially saving lives and minimizing risks to human responders.

Equipped with advanced sensors and cameras, they provide situational awareness, identify hazards, and reach inaccessible areas safely, the organization added – noting that those drones will enhance coordination through live video feeds and communication with on-the-ground teams, optimizing resource allocation.

With ongoing technological advancements, drones have the potential to save lives and mitigate emergencies’ impact, the Georgia DOT noted.

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