Concert at Air Force Academy provides CDOT chance to test traffic drone

September 16, 2016 Updated: September 16, 2016 at 7:04 pm
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photo - The North Gate of the United States Air Force Academy. Photo from the USAFA website.
The North Gate of the United States Air Force Academy. Photo from the USAFA website. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation will use a concert at the Air Force Academy Saturday as an opportunity to test out a tethered drone as a new form of traffic monitoring technology.

The drone, connected to the ground with a cable, will be used to provide CDOT's Denver-based operations center with a real-time, bird's-eye view of the area as thousands of concertgoers pour into the academy's North Gate for The American Kickoff event.

The show, which will begin at 4 p.m. at Falcon Stadium, will be headlined by country music singer Tim McGraw and feature other popular artists, including Train, Phillip Phillips and David Ray.

Amy Ford, a CDOT spokeswoman, said the video footage will enable officials to redirect traffic more appropriately when congestion occurs, better respond to traffic accidents faster, and communicate with local law enforcement more effectively.

"The neat part about the tool like this is it just gives us so much more view plane and so much more to see," Ford said. "It allows us to really dial in on what's happening at any incident and be able to respond as quickly as we can."

CDOT has deployed a drone once before - last year in in a test run over Interstate 25 in Denver - but has never used one to monitor traffic conditions, Ford said.

The drone will fly in a 400-foot range near I-25 just north of the academy, said Andrew Palowitch, CEO of the unmanned aircraft company UAVu Flight Operations, which is helping CDOT coordinate the test.

Heavy backup on I-25 near the academy is expected before and after the event Saturday, Palowitch said.

The roughly 13 pound device, manufactured by the Massachusetts-based tech company CyPhy, features a high-resolution pan and tilt zoom camera equipped with image stabilization and target tracking. The model also has thermal imaging technologies, allowing it to capture video even in the dark.

"It's a good day and night tool you can apply to this type of traffic operation," Palowitch said.

CDOT is coordinating the test run with officials from the academy and local first responders.

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