Dallas Uses Drones for City Projects

Drone collects footage at a construction site | Image by Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock

The City of Dallas is employing the use of drones as one of its “smart city initiatives.”

City staff delivered an update on the “smart city initiatives” to council members during a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Monday, sharing a wealth of information about the City’s expanded use of drones — also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

After a pilot program last summer, the City has begun using drones for various public enterprises, including collecting footage to inspect construction and infrastructure projects.

Public Works Program Administrator Jacob McCarroll said drone usage could also be applied to, Fire-Rescue, landscape analysis, emergency management, surveying, traffic management, and law enforcement.

However, use of drones by law enforcement agencies has raised concerns among the public over privacy and public safety, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. In 2021, for instance, more than 600 hours of aerial surveillance footage taken by Dallas police helicopters leaked to the public.

While the Dallas Police Department has denied any plans to weaponize drones, the official policy allows for the use of weaponized drones if authorized by the chief of Police.

The City is currently using drones in seven non-police projects throughout Dallas: North Pearl Street, Maple Avenue, Richmond Avenue, Lake Highlands Trail Extention, Dolphin Road, Kiest Sidewalk Improvements, and Dart Silver Line.

The drones are housed in “docking nodes” that monitor, service, and protect the equipment between missions.

McCarroll shared drone footage of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, explaining that inspection reports can be reviewed and verified based on information gathered by drones.

Council Member Cara Mendelsohn asked who determines when drones are sent out.

“They have their pre-recorded X-Y coordinates. They’re set to automatically be deployed three or four times a day,” replied McCarroll. “And they’re on demand. We can contact them. They can be deployed within 10 minutes.”

“We can call them and say, ‘Hey, we have an emergency. We want you to deploy to this particular project [and] fly over,'” he continued. “We could have them hover at a particular intersection and provide us all that data.”

Public Works Director Ali Hatefi added that drones have only been used for the seven aforementioned projects thus far.

“Aside from those seven projects, if there is any need for drone[s], we can look into it, but we have only stayed with those seven projects at this point,” he said.

Traditionally, drone pilots require line-of-sight, but McCarroll said Birdstop — the drone sensing company the City has partnered with — has obtained an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), meaning that Birdstop pilots can operate drones in Dallas from any remote location.

As another one of Dallas’ “smart city initiatives,” City staff are working with software company Ubicquia to incorporate its technology into the City’s infrastructure.

This technology includes “smart city infrastructure devices” that are added to existing streetlights and utility poles. These devices can serve as lights, provide Wi-Fi, monitor and optimize traffic, and monitor air quality, according to Ubicquia.

McCarroll added that these devices are equipped with 4K cameras with artificial intelligence processing that can detect gunshots.

So far, the City of Dallas has installed these devices in the Red Cloud neighborhood, at Richmond Avenue, and in Tietze Park.

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1 Comment

  1. Mac Smith

    I applaud the use of technology to save money or improve results. But, there is nothing in the article that says anything about that.
    We can probably determine the cost. What is the value?


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