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Carson City Public Works uses drone for data collection

CARSON CITY — Carson City Public Works officials are getting a bird’s-eye view of their projects and property thanks to a small drone they think will help save them lots of money in the future.

The department in September bought a 3-pound unmanned aerial drone and a dedicated iPad to operate the machine. The department has used the camera-equipped aircraft for maintenance inspections and other tasks needing an aerial view, The Nevada Appeal reported.

The setup cost about $1,000.

The drone is equipped with a camera for imaging, and four other cameras used to detect obstructions in its path and can be flown up for 400 feet above the ground, according to Federal Aviation Administration rules. The drone requires an FAA pilot’s license to operate.

“We’re working on a proof of concept to determine what its capability is for Public Works,” said James Jacklett, the department’s operations manager, control systems. “We’ve been using it for maintenance inspection like solar panels, the Mexican dam, the ditch, the landfill.”

The department has used consultants who fly aircraft to take aerial imagery of property, disaster sites and city roads for various purposes like data collection and permitting. Officials say a drone could do some of that work faster and for far less money.

“We’re not looking to replace other services,” Jacklett said. “We’re keeping it focused right now to determine the value.”

So far, the drone has been on about 20 flights, Jacklett said. For example, it was used to survey a construction project at the Water Resource Recovery Facility. The drone covered the facility’s 49 acres in 12 minutes, taking 309 photos, flying back and forth in a grid system. The photos were stitched together to create two- and three-dimensional images of the entire plant.

The drone also surveyed the city landfill to measure material there, which Jacklett said may be something it does in the future.

“We’re still evaluating it, so if we can supplement or replace our annual permit flight,” Jacklett said. “Every year we have a light aircraft do a flight.”

If the drone proves useful, the city could invest in more units, especially if they drop in price, Jacklett said.

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