Bipartisan Bill Aims to Use Grants to Increase Drone Usage For Infrastructure Assessment

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The legislation would authorize grants to use American drones for infrastructure assessment and maintenance as well as for workforce training and education.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Drone Infrastructure Inspection Grant Act to increase the use of American-made drones to help inspect and maintain infrastructure projects across the country.

The bill––introduced by Sens. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., John Boozman, R-Ark., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.––would “authorize $100 million in competitive grants to use American-made drones to perform critical infrastructure, maintenance, or construction projects.” Additionally, it would allow $100 million in workforce grants, specifically for workforce training and education in an effort to prepare the next generation of workers in this sector.

“As we make historic investments in fixing and updating our nation’s infrastructure, we can rely on the latest technology to identify physical vulnerabilities that need to be fixed,” Rosen said. “This bipartisan legislation will help local governments invest in drones and skilled workers to ensure America’s existing infrastructure remains safe.” 

“Using advanced technology for infrastructure safety inspections will improve and strengthen our bridges and railways,” Boozman added. “In Arkansas, we’ve invested in modernizing our capabilities, including utilizing drones and other emerging technologies. The DIIG Act continues to build on this momentum while also helping develop the workforce to operate these cutting edge tools.” 

Drones are currently used to inspect infrastructure projects. For example, in 2021, drone footage showed a serious crack in the I-40 bridge in Tennessee, causing the bridge’s closure. 

“This bill promotes the use of domestic drone technology to inspect and maintain our nation’s vital infrastructure,” Blumenthal said. “Through important grant programs, our workforce will be given the tools and skilled training necessary to keep our bridges, dams, and highways across the country safe.”    

The introduced legislation would also help research universities access these grants to train future drone-operating workers. 

The Senate bill comes after a version of the bill was introduced in the House in September 2021.The House bill would establish a “drone infrastructure inspection grant program to make grants to governmental entities” to use drones to assist with the “inspection, repair, modernization, and construction of critical infrastructure.” 

Government entities could use the grant funding to purchase drones, buy drone inspection systems and help the capabilities of the government’s small unmanned aircraft system program. The bill also provided funding for drone education and workforce training programs. It would have provided $50 million in both fiscal year 2022 and 2023 for both types of grants, totaling $100 million in grants for each year.