Thursday, May 17, 2018

KDOT employee turns love of UAS into more than a hobby

AJ Wilson maneuvers his drone during a demonstration.
AJ Wilson spent $50 on his first drone.

“It was really junky,” Wilson admits about the purchase in January 2017.

So Wilson, the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Area Engineer in Winfield, upgraded, buying a new model for just more than $1,000 — including replacement insurance.

“It’s become an expensive hobby,” Wilson says.

Flooding of the Ninnescah River in September 2016 is what inspired Wilson to look into getting his own UAS — unmanned aircraft system.

“You can’t visualize how big a flood it was until you can get up above it,” he says.

 Wilson used his drone during an emergency project to repair and replace steel pile jetties in the river, which runs close to U.S. 81. The steel piles help prevent erosion. He used the drone to make a new map every few days to show progress of the project.

Wilson uses his Mavic Pro for work and pleasure. He’s on his third version of his current model.

The first two became victims of trees. The camera broke in the first one when it got caught in a tree and fell out. The second fell out of a tree and into a river.

“So it’s not so much getting caught in a tree as it is falling out of a tree,” he says.

Wilson uses his drone for work. He makes maps, including elevation and 3-D maps. Drones can be used to calculate the volume of stockpiles and for survey work. Wilson is excited to serve on KDOT’s UAS committee. 

He’s also excited about the recent announcement that KDOT was chosen as one of 10 entities to participate in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, an initiative aimed at shaping the future of drones in America.

“I’m excited to hear about this selection,” Wilson says. “This will allow KDOT to be a big player in the conversation about drone integration into both the construction and maintenance of our highway infrastructure.”

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