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Abu Dhabi transport department uses drones to improve traffic flows

Data collected by live video stream from drones is analysed at control centre to help alleviate traffic jams and other issues

Abu Dhabi’s transport department is using its participation at Gitex Technology Week to unveil a new drone-based traffic management system.

Dubbed Project Gernas, the initiative is licensed by the UAE’s civil aviation regulator and uses two drones, a Matrice 600 and an Inspire 2, launched from a Ford F-150 vehicle.

Manned by the pilot operating the drones, the vehicle acts as a temporary control centre and receives live video streams from the drones over a Wi-Fi connection.

The transport department said the data collected is analysed in the control centre to come up with suggestions to alleviate traffic jams and other issues arising from accidents and emergencies.

Salah al Marzouqi, director of intelligent traffic systems at the department, said: “The reason we developed this was because putting in fibre lines and then deploying cameras is very expensive. We needed a solution that could be deployed instantly and resolve issues as and when they happen in the emirate.”

Both drones can hold enough power to fly for up to an hour, can ascend to 400ft and operate up to 7km away from the control vehicle. However, the UAE’s civil aviation rules stipulate that the aircraft must be within the pilot’s line of sight and maintain a vertical distance of 200ft until an unspecified trial period ends.

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The drones are equipped with thermographic cameras that can collect data in any weather conditions, including reduced visibility such as fog or sandstorms. It would have been possible to allow for 4G capability too, but practical considerations had to be taken into account, said Marzouqi.

“It took us close to three years to develop this to the specifications of each stakeholder and partner we were working with,” he said. “Theoretically, the drone could carry up to 10 hours of charge and connect over any range of networks, but this is the most practical system that can be deployed.”

Project Gernas is also being looked at for other uses, such as cutting the costs of monitoring parking by using drones to read number plates and issue traffic fines on the spot. “It is possible we might not need any parking meters as well,” said Marzouqi.

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