February 11, 2016

Florida cargo port to launch pilot program with drones

Airborne cameras could be used to survey land and property.

By DC Velocity Staff

Keeping track of property at a bustling cargo port can seem like an impossible task when everything not nailed down is being swiftly loaded onto (or off of) swarms of ships and trucks.

Officials at Port Tampa Bay in Florida think the answer may be to launch airborne drones to act as their eyes in the sky. The Tampa Port Authority's board of commissioners voted in December to request paperwork from the attorney general allowing it to petition the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for permission to launch the small robotic aircraft, according to The Tampa Tribune.

Winning federal permission could take as long as 12 months, but if the request is approved, the port staff plans to add the drones and their supporting equipment to the port's fiscal 2017 budget. Officials say the initiative could save as much as $180,000 annually and eliminate countless hours of labor.

In an early test, port engineers used a drone to survey port property. By taking monthly photos of construction projects, they discovered that a certain "spoil island" (an island created by dredging along a waterway) had extra capacity to hold discarded dredge material from channel deepening projects. The drone accomplished this mission in a quick 30-minute flight, saving time and money compared with the month-long job of surveying the difficult terrain by foot.

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