A UAV/Drone flying over a road

If you happen to be near any of the region’s transportation projects and hear something that sounds like a bumblebee, it could be an OKI drone.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – known colloquially as ‘drones’ – are humming above our region’s skies.

And their numbers continue to rise, as do the ways in which they are being both used and tested: For fun. Firefighting. Crop health and growth. Military missions. Delivering library books to rural children. Improving your overhand smash in tennis. And many more.

Close to home, Kroger is evaluating them for home grocery deliveries. And in a nod to healthcare, the University of Cincinnati Medical Center is looking at their potential for house calls and delivering medical supplies.

As a transportation-focused agency, OKI uses UAVs to monitor transportation infrastructure such as roundabouts, bridges and highways.

OKI has FAA-certified UAV pilots: David Shuey, director of information systems & analytics; Gabriela Waesch, GIS analyst; and Jackson Shiffert, GIS developer.

“Our program is providing transformative value to many of the transportation and environmental datasets collected and maintained by OKI,” Shuey explained.

Six years into the program, OKI’s UAV program continues to expand its reach to partners.

For example, in 2019, OKI partnered with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (District 6) on a three-year program to take photos and videos on I-71/75, and the new Graves Road interchange on I-275.

“As part of this program, OKI UAV pilots captured imagery five times a year during construction season,” Shuey said. “This imagery is providing KYTC with timely aerial intelligence for each project.”

The partnership ended in 2022 with the completion of the two INFRA projects.

Other OKI drone-assisted initiatives:

  • OKI’s UAV program worked with Ohio Paddlefest organizers in 2021 to shoot video footage and still images of the event. The group uses the media on their website and in Paddlefest promotions.
  • Collaborating with the Cardinal Land Conservancy and Bahr Farms, OKI captured imagery to document a recently purchased undeveloped parcel adjacent to Bahr Farms. Specific focus was “given to the property’s creek as a place where potential projects from mitigation and suitability funds could be best served,” Shuey said.
  • OKI pilots also collaborated with the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District to provide video footage of the Caesar Creek watershed. “The footage was used in a series of videos to help educate the public on the importance of protecting the soil and water within the watershed,” Shuey said.

In 2025, OKI plans to retire its first UAV and replace it with a new one with enhanced capabilities.

“Technology has changed a lot in the last five years. And newer UAVs have longer flight times and higher resolution cameras, among other upgrades,” Shuey said. 

— Jim Pickering