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How Drones Can Support Traffic Solutions

Planning the city streets of the future while optimizing the roadways of today is a challenge facing urban centers around the world.

Smart City technology - a futuristic patchwork of sensors, connected vehicles, AI and real-time analytics - promises plenty. But data is a key part of that process.

If we want to make navigating busy cities less time-consuming and plan roadways in order to ease congestion, we need to know what’s being driven where, when those journeys are taking place and, to an extent, where they are originating from. The need for this information is particularly important at busy intersections and other bottlenecks where traffic tends to build up.

This data is also vital to inform initiatives focused on reducing pollution and improving the air quality in busy cities.

Traditionally, that data gathering would be done with a combination of simple road sensors, traffic cameras and researchers standing at intersections with clipboards. Neither of these methods is particularly cost-effective, all-encompassing in terms of the depth of data needed or efficient.

When aerial data meets AI

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Plenty of industries are beginning to see what’s possible when clever software is applied to accurate aerial data, whether that’s stitching images into complex maps and models, counting sheep, measuring whales, or recognizing objects from above.

The latter promises to change the way we think about traffic management. The birds-eye view from drones could be combined with AI to count traffic, recognize specific car models, calculate speed and, with certain payloads, measure emissions.

At scale, it’s easy to see how this raft of data could provide the foundations for smarter town planning and in-the-moment support for first responders.


Drone technology provides researchers and professionals with a point of view that brings clarity and accuracy.

But just as important is persistence. Drones can effectively fly 24/7. Connected to the cloud, that visual feed can pick up details that could be missed by other data collection methods and never miss a beat.

An obvious way to keep drones in the air is with spare batteries and multiple units. But perhaps more likely for traffic research and solutions in urban areas is the proven technique of tethering drones to a power source on the ground.

It’s easy to see how this persistence could benefit both long term data collection and live accident reporting.

With a drone, first responders can quickly appraise traffic accidents, consider the best way forward, assess which emergency services are needed and harness those insights to get things moving again as quickly as possible.

Sensors, scale and mobility

Drone-based traffic solutions can be deployed at scale and offer far better mobility than any current method. Overhead also tend to be more reliable for assessing situations than ground level views. Flying above a traffic flow provides an unobstructed view of what’s going on below.

On top of using standard images and video to assess traffic flows from above, drones can be used to track air quality.

Polluted air could be prematurely killing as many as 400,000 Europeans every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). There are few major cities around the world that don’t have air quality issues.

Equipped with compact sensors, air temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and ammonia can all be detected and measured by drone.

In the not to0 distant future, networks of autonomous drones could provide live emission readings and persistent traffic information from urban bottlenecks. Town planners could learn from and apply their collective insights, first responders could quickly harness their overhead views, and connected vehicles could adapt routes in real-time based on the data coming through.

Want to learn more about the futuristic potential of drone technology? Read our blog delving into drone swarms.


Tags: Drone Uses Environment Transportation
Malek Murison
Malek Murison

Malek Murison is a technology journalist based in London who covers drone industry news and product reviews for DroneLife. He's written features for the Financial Times and works with some of the drone world's most exciting startups.


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