Victoria runs drone trial in bid to improve regional road maintenance – ABC News

The Victorian government says its new artificial intelligence (AI) and drone technologies are about saving taxpayer dollars and keeping workers safe.

AI software by Australian firm Eagle Soft is already being tested in north-east Victoria, where cameras are mounted on cars that drive around mapping and assessing the conditions of arterial roads and assets.

Now the state government is putting $200,000 towards mounting the AI onto drones as part of its regional maintenance blitz.

The trial is kicking off at Ballarat.

The state of roads in regional Victoria – particularly potholes – is a major ongoing issue.

The majority of Victoria’s regional roads were built after World War II and have been impacted by increased traffic and extreme weather.

Earlier this year, a pothole on Princess Highway in Gippsland almost killed a couple heading home from a holiday.

Western Victorians have been calling for the main road between Melbourne and Adelaide to be urgently repaired.

This year the state government has provided Regional Roads Victoria with about $300 million to cover the upkeep of about 19,000 kilometres of roads.

Roads and Road Safety Minister Ben Carroll said regional roads were essential for the tourism sector, farming, and the freight industry.

A huge pothole eating into the side of a country highway.
A pothole on the South Gippsland Highway, 20 kilometres from Yarram in eastern Victoria.(Supplied: RACV)

Improving the system

Mr Carroll said the new funding would be a “game changer” to the way road maintenance is done.

“We spend billions of dollars on road maintenance,” he said.

“Just in the Ballarat region alone this maintenance season we’re spending $45m on important road maintenance.

The technology will use high-resolution cameras mounted on small drones to capture footage from difficult locations, such as bridges.

Data from the drones will then be sent back directly to Vic Roads and the Department of Transport, saving time and capturing more data than is currently possible.

Mr Carroll said the photos captured by the drones could detect “even the most minute” issues and bring them to attention earlier.

“Rather than a worker having to put in a traffic management plan, stopping traffic and holding up traffic … we can literally deploy a drone that can also pick up hairline fractures and cracks in the roads,” he said.

Saving millions

Regional Roads Victoria Grampians Region regional director Michael Bailey said the technology would lead to major savings.

“The software itself saves us about $2.5m and three years’ worth of work,” he said.

“In terms of the drones, it means we’re not putting our staff in unsafe locations on positions and we can make sure they’re safe and getting home to their families, which is really important.”

The trial will run for six months.

The government will then assess the data and look at expanding the program.

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