Documenting and implementing UAS data for roadside vegetation management

Focus Area

Invasive Species/Vegetation Management


Natural Resources






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Invasive plant species can create nuisance maintenance issues and even dangerous conditions for the traveling public by affecting lines-of-sight, efficiency of roadside drainage, etc. The NCHRP Synthesis Report 341 on “Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management” from 2005 describes how states and Canadian provinces manage their vegetation through mowing, herbicide, and biocontrol of invasive species. Since its publication, the capabilities and deployments of unmanned aerial systems (UAS or “drones”) have grown significantly, and can help meet the needs for objective, repeatable data to make decisions on vegetation management. This proposal is needed to fill the gap on how advancing remote sensing technologies can support integrated vegetation management. Through this project, a research team will survey current and recent practices within roadside management agencies and divisions both nationally and internationally, where UAS-enabled sensing is providing cost-efficient decision support data. The research team will use this information to compile and recommend best management practices that take advantage of rapidly advancing platforms, sensors, and FAA rules that have made UAS deployment more practical along rights-of-way. The project’s intent is to support existing vegetation management programs by integrating new technologies into day-to-day use. Transformational technologies: Mapping the types, locations, and densities of nuisance roadside vegetation through UAS-enabled multispectral and 3D sensing builds from natural resource agencies who are starting to use these technologies, as well as DOTs that have started to implement UAS. A recent AASHTO survey showed that many states have UAS programs (35 of 44 responding states), typically managed out of aeronautics departments, but that are being asked to support other uses within DOTs and other state & local agencies. At the recent NCHRP Domestic Scan on UAS in Surface Transportation Agencies held in April of 2018, states such as California, Michigan, Alaska, and North Carolina described environmental applications within their state DOT. The scene is set to move these technologies from research to implementation through this project by documenting this developing area.

Urgency and Payoff

Management of nuisance and invasive roadside vegetation continues to impact both the agenices in charge of their control and the public that travels these roadways. Environmental changes may be making the spread of invasive plants an even worse issue, and transportation corridors are known routes for invasive species to spread. With DOTs starting to UAS on a state-by-state basis, this project would provide the ability for states to learn from each other for this specific priority area and better manage this vegetation resource by taking advantage of a newer technology.

Suggested By

Colin Brooks Michigan Technological University - MTRI 7346044196

[email protected]