Drones may zip over rural skies to survey roads

The government is seriously considering deploying drones to come up with a Road Condition Index.

If things go as planned, drones will fly over rural Karnataka to assess the quality of over 20,000 km of roads.

The government is seriously considering deploying drones to come up with a Road Condition Index. This will help authorities identify stretches that need repairs under the “Grameena Sumarga” project that involves spending Rs 7,182 crore on upkeep of rural roads. 

“We are actively considering drones,” Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Minister Krishna Byre Gowda told DH. “We are also looking at using vehicles fitted with sensors to scan the roads. While this will be one layer of decision-making, another layer will come from drones.” 

The use of technology marks a major shift in the way road quality is assessed. Traditionally, the condition of a road is measured visually or manually, which is unreliable. “We are not even sure if people go to the spot before giving their report,” a senior official said. 

Karnataka has a rural blacktop road network of 56,362 km. Of them, authorities have identified 24,246 km as priority village roads that provide access to key infrastructure like schools, hospitals, offices and markets. Of these, 4,000 km roads are in good condition while the remaining 20,000 km need reconstruction, re-asphalting and other repairs. 

The Road Condition Index will assess quality based on potholes, edge breaks, ruts/depressions, cracks, pavement failure and so on. “Basically, a drone will fly along the road taking a continuous video. A software will analyse the video based on the parameters, resulting in an index for each road,” RDPR principal secretary L K Atheeq explained. 

The RDPR department reached out to Mangaluru-based Quad Perspective to understand the feasibility of a drone-based survey. The company used drones to help with the rehabilitation effort in the flood-hit Kodagu district last year. “Bid documents are being finalised to float a tender for the survey,” Atheeq said. 

The Road Condition Index will be followed by a Road Priority Index to identify stretches that are important.

Drones are increasingly finding a place in governance. “Drones and their photogrammetry are the future of surveying,” Quad Perspective cofounder Anuj Mascarenhas said. 

Karnataka has already announced drone-based revenue survey of five districts and Bengaluru city in partnership with the Survey of India. The Karnataka Knowledge Commission has pushed for the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in agriculture, forest, mining, homeland security, archaeology, disaster management, urban growth monitoring among other areas. 

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