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It is hard to effectively prepare for new technology.  What do you need to know?  How will you use the technology?  How will you know if you are actually prepared for the technology?  Even using the correct term for a piece of technology can be challenging.  What one person may call a drone another person may call a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and another an RPA (remotely piloted aircraft).

Public works seems to be settled on using UAV, but there is much more to learn about this newly adopted piece of flying technology.  UAVs will become a piece of public works equipment sooner than later; thank goodness training courses are becoming available across North America.

Beginner courses often include:

  • Explaining different models of UAV
  • Purchasing your new system
  • Safety guidelines
  • Pre-flight checklists

Online courses are available as well.  However, becoming an effective and responsible UAV pilot is more than watching an online tutorial and teaching yourself how to fly.  You wouldn’t attempt to operate a tub grinder, an asphalt recycler, or a water jetter without proper hands-on training-UAV training should be no different. 

In-depth UAV courses embrace concepts and experiences:

  • Responsibilities of the pilot
  • Air space
  • Aviation weather
  • Pre-flight inspections
  • Flying without GPS
  • Flying to simulate a bridge inspection

Photo courtesy of Brandon Parigo, UMKC Strategic Communications

APWA looked at the Unmanned Aircraft Training for Industrial Applications offered at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) to get an idea of what public works employees can look for and benefit from.  The course is designed to teach discretion and accountability by placing the students in uncomfortable real-life scenarios.

All public works employees will agree that operating expensive equipment comes with elevated responsibility.  Operating UAVs will surely follow that rule. 

What a public works employee should look for in a UAV course.

  • Who is teaching the course?
  • Is the course at the appropriate skill level?
  • Does the course provide experience that will translate to my line of work?
  • Will I have opportunities to get flying time?

Like all public works operators, UAV operators will be expected to know the equipment inside and out; know when the equipment is not operating correctly; and most importantly, know its limitations.    UAV courses can provide the foundation required to be a smart, responsible pilot.

Education and experience are the backbone to an effective equipment operator, and courses are now being offered to provide UAV pilots with the knowledge and experience to put UAVs on the front line of public works equipment. 


The 2018 IEEE International Smart Cities Conference in Kansas City, MO brought together experts, project managers, policy makers and academics to discuss smart city technology, and smart city initiatives such as smart infrastructure, asset upgrading and replacement, and connected devices.  Key topics for public works professionals included spatial computing, a future with autonomous vehicles, and the Internet of Things. 

Spatial computing can create virtual maps for consumer GPS devices, assist with asset tracking, facility management, and even smart routing.  Smart routing can be used by the fleet industry to find more efficient routes, saving time as well as money.  By the year 2020 smart routing could save up to $500 billion in fuel and time.

A future that brings autonomous vehicles will bring questions like the value of curb space, concerns like the funding of transportation infrastructure, and quick adoption of AV.  The adoption of AV will absolutely affect big highway projects and force administrators and public works leaders to reassess the value of parking.  Keynote speaker Julie Lorenz discussed the disruptive changes that autonomous and connected vehicles will bring.  She believes these changes will require cities to adapt and innovate to provide services.
Julie Lorenz:  The Promise and Paradox of Emerging Vehicles

The Internet of Things is a concept that will affect the public works industry across the board.  The IoT is an idea where things are connected like people; vehicles, machines, people, and infrastructure will all be connected and exchanging data.  Public works impacts will include real-time analytics for infrastructure management, environmental monitoring, energy management, and what is sure to be the next “utility”; transportation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Smart cities implementation and support is greatly dependent on public works departments as they are responsible for the city infrastructure and technology maintenance.
  • Many advances within smart city infrastructure will be the result of life cycle upgrades or replacement of infrastructure or city assets. (Street light replacement / repair)
  • Transportation will become a “utility” for citizens, and curb space will be more valued in the city space.



In July, I headed west to San Francisco to attend the Automated Vehicles Symposium Driven by AUVSI and TRB.  The most engaged researchers, the most innovative industry representatives, and experienced professionals from transportation agencies and other invested organizations in the realm of Automated Vehicles attended and presented at this event.

In a session by Dr. Ensar Becic with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) it was mentioned that crashes will happen and that 94% of crashes are due to human choice or error. That’s an amazing statistic.

This is an interesting graphic that was included in the presentation titled Bridging the Automated Vehicle Gap:  Consumer Trust, Technology and Liability about the Willingness to Ride in Fully Autonomous Self-Driving Vehicle.  Looking at the “woulds” vs. “would nots,” it is interesting to note that it’s pretty evenly matched between those that would and those that would not be likely to ride in a fully autonomous self-driving vehicle.  I ride the bus to work downtown in Kansas City.  One day, I was talking to a fellow bus rider that said she likes taking the bus because she doesn’t have to drive.  I asked her if she would like to ride in an autonomous vehicle.  She said, “Oh no, I want a driver in the vehicle.”  Until we are able to change that mindset, I don’t believe there will be full adoption of autonomous vehicles.

In the future, when SAE Level 5 automated vehicles are an everyday occurrence, transportation will be considered a service. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) was a term used by Professor Paul Newman from Oxford.  It may not take as long as we think for full adoption of autonomous vehicles.  For example, in 1909 Henry Ford began production on the Model T.  In 1927 there were 15 million Model T’s on the road.

Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, spoke on Tuesday. She said, “Without public acceptance, automated technology will never reach its full potential.”

Secretary Chao shared the six principles that govern the United States Department of Transportation’s approach to AV technology:

(1) The #1 Priority is Safety

(2) Tech-neutral, not top-down command and control.  We will not pick winners and losers among the developers of these technologies.

 (3) Preference for regulations that are non-prescriptive, performance-based, and seek to enhance safety whenever possible

(4) The Department will work with states and localities to avoid a patchwork of rules that could inhibit innovation and make it difficult for AVs to cross state lines.

(5) The Department will provide stakeholders with guidance, best practices, pilot programs and other assistance to facilitate the safe integration of AV systems into the transportation system.

(6) The Department recognizes that autonomous vehicles will have to operate side-by-side with traditional vehicles, in both urban and rural areas.

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery By U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao Autonomous Vehicle Symposium San Francisco, CA Tuesday, July 10, 2018

I attended two breakout sessions while at the Symposium:

  • Cybersecurity of Automated Vehicles Ecosystem was very interesting.  I found there were more ways to attack automated vehicles and infrastructure than I had thought of. 
  • Speed Dating in the Legal Coliseum was a unique session where 12 panelists presented a single slide and in four minutes described what their organization is doing, what feedback they want from the audience, and what one policy wish they have for government or industry.

At the plenary session on Wednesday, it was brought up about ethics and autonomous vehicles.  If a situation presented itself should the car kill the passenger or ten people on the road.  My thought was, "let’s not kill anyone."

There was a reception with exhibitors and poster presentations each evening.  Lidar was a hot topic with the exhibitors and Truck Platooning seemed to be a very popular research topic.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in San Francisco.  I came away from the symposium with a few answers and lots of questions that people don’t know the answers to yet.

Automated Vehicles Symposium 2018 Proceedings

Of course, while in San Francisco, I had to ride the Cable Car to Fisherman’s Wharf to get clam chowder in a bread bowl.   

APWA Roving Reporter - Automated Vehicles Symposium Facebook Album


Rita J. Cassida, PE

Education Manager


Welcome to APWA’s new Education and Credentialing blog!

APWA has reinvented the way we deliver education and credentialing to our members. Experience learning how you want it, and when you want it with a variety of cutting-edge delivery formats. Follow this blog for innovative and ground breaking education content, newly released program announcements, career development insights, and much more. This blog will complement APWA’s Annual Trending Technology series, Roving Reporter Education broadcasts, eLearning courses, certificate programs, certifications, accreditation, and other programming.

Your education and credentialing experience starts here. Join us as we navigate this journey together!


Becky Stein, Director of Education and Credentialing