Image source: West Midlands Combined Authority
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) has set up a drone team to help manage traffic in the region.
It said its drones will fly over congestion hotspots and traffic queues at accident scenes and road closures and send live video footage to managers at its Regional Transport Coordination Centre (RTCC) to help them plan diversions and keep the public informed.
The video will be used to cover gaps in the coverage of more than 2,500 fixed CCTV cameras on roads in the West Midlands.
Three new DJI Enterprise M30T drones, equipped with thermal image cameras and x200 zooms, have been added to the fleet and five members of staff, including transport safety officers and members of TfWM’s network resilience team, have been trained to pilot them.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “Since it was launched three years ago, our Regional Transport Coordination Centre has been at the forefront of innovation in transport management – playing a major role in the success of last summer’s spectacular Commonwealth Games.
“Now we’re building on the existing provision of hundreds of CCTV cameras covering our road, rail and tram networks by bringing drone technology into our repertoire to further improve coverage.
“Having a wider aerial view of various scenarios that can be beamed back to the RTCC will enable our traffic managers to make better and faster decisions about how best to deal with incidents – enhancing the travel experience for local people right across our region.”
Cllr Ian Ward, West Midlands Combined Authority portfolio holder for transport, said: “It is cost effective too in being able to provide coverage in an area which would require dozens of fixed CCTV cameras at a fraction of the cost.”
The team first flew its drones over the Digbeth area of Birmingham city centre and has now deployed them to key locations including Coventry, Walsall and Sandwell.
It is also set to trial an automated drone which would be launched from the roof of Walsall Bus Station in collaboration with drone safety specialist Skybound Rescuer. TfWM said this will be the first urban trial of a remote operated drone system in the UK.
Kerry Blakeman, accountable drone manager for TfWM, said: “We want the public to know what we’re doing and the reason why. So we record all our flights on www.dronesafetymap.com which allows the public to see why we’re in their neighbourhood and helps improve safety as other drone pilots can also use this map.
“We are constantly looking to develop the capacity and improve the quality of information available to our transport coordination centre which is why we have launched this trial at Walsall Bus Station.”