Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) currently operates a fleet of 48 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) across California’s highways and bridges. Caltrans deploys UAS for bridge inspections, construction monitoring, surveying, steep terrain investigation, construction, and fire and storm damage assessments. Incorporating UAS technology into Caltrans business activities promotes safety, boosts efficiency, and decreases costs. Caltrans investment in UAS policies, procedures, training, and safety management has helped advance the program in a safe manner.


(Video courtesy of Alan Sharon and Samer Momani)

Caltrans Use of UAS (Construction and Maintenance Footage)

(Video courtesy of Harwell Ontoy)

District 11 UAS Program

(Video courtesy of Patrick Piacentini)

Structures Maintenance and Investigation Bridge Inspection Program

SM&I inspects over 24,000 bridges on the state and local highway system in compliance with the Code of Federal Regulations. By using UAS technology at bridges that would otherwise be too difficult, too costly or too hazardous to access, we can inspect these assets safely, rapidly, with a minimum of resources and at significantly reduced costs over traditional methods. Due to the success of our trial concept, we are implementing UAS technology statewide.

(Video courtesy of Ron Karpowicz)

Caltrans UAS For Rapid Steep Terrain Geologic Hazard Mapping

Geotech deploys UAS to conduct geotechnical investigations over steep terrain along California’s highways. The primary application is to support geotechnical field investigations involving landslides, rockfall, and other difficult situations where staff safety is a concern. UAS integrates several remote sensing and data collection technologies including high resolution aerial photography and terrain mapping capabilities to aid in accurate characterization of geologic hazards. With over 130 steep terrain investigations to date, deploying UAS has increased Caltrans ability to keep the travelling public and its workers safe.

Caltrans North Region Surveys UAS Program

(Presentation courtesy of Chris Thornton)

Surveys has attained cost savings averaging between 40-60 percent utilizing UAS technology. This new survey tool allows Surveys to collect mapping data in a fraction of the time it would take to collect it conventionally. Surveys investments in UAS photogrammetry and UAS LiDAR platforms have resulted in accelerated survey product delivery and reduced resource costs. Additionally, emergency design data can be collected, processed, and submitted for design in a matter of days. UAS can be used to effectively collect data in inaccessible areas without having to put boots on the ground, reducing exposure of personnel and the travelling public.

View Presentation

North Region Construction UAS

(Presentation courtesy of Aaron Chamberlin)

Presentation highlighting the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in North Region Construction.

View Presentation


Chris Thornton – Senior Transportation Surveyor, North Region Division of Surveys
Patrick Piacentini –Senior Bridge Engineer, Division of Maintenance, Structures Maintenance and Investigations
Samer Momani – Associate Environmental Planner, District 7 Alan Sharon – Maintenance Supervisor, District 7
Ron Karpowicz - Senior Engineering Geologist, Division of Engineering Services
Aaron Chamberlin, Resident Engineer, North Region Construction
Harwell Ontoy, Branch Chief, Division of Design, District 11