County and The Ray seeking federal funds for drone program

Published 9:22 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

The Ray is once again working with Troup County seeking federal funding for a pilot program that would provide drones to be the first eyes on the scene for law enforcement and firefighters.

On Tuesday, Allie Kelly, Executive Director of The Ray, requested support from the county to apply for funds through the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant for a drone program that would send drones out to emergencies along The Ray and other highways in Troup County. 

The Ray is an 18-mile portion of Interstate 85 in Troup County designated by Congress as the Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway after his passing in 2011. Since then, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation has used the stretch of highway to test transportation innovations.

Over the years, the foundation has worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and the Federal Highways Administration on more than a dozen projects on The Ray. The Ray currently works with ng with 51 state and regional agencies 29 across the United States.

“We’re committed to continuing to add new technologies to that 18-mile stretch of interstate to keep it on the leading edge of where transportation and energy technology is taking us,” Kelly said.

The grant would provide funds for a pilot program that would pay for drones and training so that unmanned aircraft could be sent to traffic safety emergencies on Troup County highways, including The Ray. Kelly said the drones could be used to evaluate scenes before officers arrive, look for ejected passengers or even locate fleeing suspects after a police chase.

Kelly and The Ray sought similar funding last year but the project did not move forward. She said that since the request last year, The Ray has donated two drones to the Troup County Marshal’s Office as well as training for three pilots and FAA logging software.

Kelly said the max award for the SMART Grant is $2 million but she anticipates they could receive up to $1.25 million for the proposed drone program, which would place three drone stations around the county to be sent out and piloted from within the 911 call center.

With 45 MPH speeds and the ability to ignore traffic, drones can arrive at accident scenes long before police or fire.

The unmanned aircraft can take video or photos to identify potential fires and fuel spills and can locate ejected passengers or missing subjects with onboard heat cameras.

Unlike many grants, the funds can also be used to pay the wages of employees, such as potential drone operators and for their training.

The grant does not require any matching funds from the county. 

Kelly said that the funds, if approved, would pay for the first stage of the program and the county would not be obligated to continue the program into additional phases.

“We’re at the crawl phase. We’re going to get a couple pieces of equipment with some folks who are responsible for making this successful,” Kelly said. “We’re going to crawl and we’re going to learn and we’re going to iterate and we’re going to implement and create methodologies and demonstrations.”