Light the Job Site with an Autonomous Drone
From capturing photos of job sites to measuring aggregate stockpiles, drones are nothing new to the asphalt industry. However, the Autonomous Aerial LED (ALED) portable light from Blue Vigil, Sterling, Virginia, illustrates a new frontier for the use of drones: lighting nighttime job sites.
“Currently, towed light towers are the de-facto standard for a majority of nighttime roadside, bridge, overpass and other horizontal construction sites,” said Blue Vigil CEO Robert Schumann. “We have a better, and safer, solution to answer what will soon become known as ‘yesterday’s problems.’”
Earlier this year, the portable drone light received a 2023 Innovation Award at the 53rd Annual American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) trade show in Phoenix, Arizona.
Blue Vigil’s ALED is a compact area lighting system that mounts a high-intensity LED array on a tethered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), also known as a drone. The ALED can be positioned anywhere from 40 to 100 feet above the job site, providing more than 8,000 square feet of light at an intensity of 5 foot candles when flown at 100 feet.
“The ALED Portable Light will dramatically improve work zone safety and operational efficiency by putting more usable light on the ground where it’s needed,” Schumann said. “Illuminating a work area from directly above eliminates dangerous shadows or glare that create hazardous conditions for workers and motorists.”
Schumann recommends flying the ALED at a height of 80 to 100 feet, with a minimum of at least 40 feet. Anything lower than 40 feet, he said, would result in the same issues ground-based lighting solutions often present.
The exact height a crew might choose to fly the ALED depends on the OSHA requirements for that job site and the type of work the crew is performing, Schumann said. “If you need more light, you can bring the light lower to achieve higher lumens,” he said. “For example, if you’re doing detail work like the guys at the paver, you might want to fly it lower than 100 feet.”
The ALED can be powered by wall/shore power, a portable 3000-watt generator, or a common vehicle inverter. “You can literally use one of those little Honda generators that you use for camping,” Schumann said. “Power comes up the tether, so the unit can stay in the air as long as you have a power supply.”
Because the ALED is classified as a drone, Schumann said a Part 107 licensed pilot must be on site to monitor each ALED. However, customers receive free registration for the Part 107 course for two operators per ALED.
Although the drones do not require manual control once set up, the Part 107 licensed operator must maintain visual line of sight with the ALED at all times. So, if a crew of 10 all went through Part 107 training, they could have a maximum of 10 ALEDs on the job site.
However, aside from the Part 107 license, Schumann said there aren’t additional requirements for most work environments. One example he gave: “If you’re working on an airport or near an airport, the Part 107 training will teach you the proper procedures.”
At the ATSSA trade show, one group that showed particular interest in Blue Vigil’s drone light were companies performing night work in parking lots. “We assumed the parking lots have lights, so the crews wouldn’t need to light the job site,” Schumann said. However, most parking lot lights turn on/off automatically, so crews must provide their own lighting. “They can put four of these ALEDs in their pickup truck, drop them at the corners of the parking lot and they’ll have light all night long.”
Blue Vigil’s all-weather ALED light is enclosed in a wheeled case (30x42x24 inches) that also serves as the base of the tethered drone.
Each ALED unit is 75 pounds, so it can be transported in a pickup truck bed and rolled like a suitcase to where it’s needed. “Today, you’ve got 1800-pound lights on wheels, which means it has to be towed. That constraint limits where it can be positioned on the job site.”
Once the case is in place, the operator opens the case, plugs it into the generator, and pushes a single button to raise the light into position. “The drone is tethered to the case, so it literally can’t fly anywhere else,” Schumann said. “The controls basically consist of on/off, up/down, brightness and aiming.”
“At the end of the night, the operator hits the down button and the drone automatically lands,” Schumann said. “Just close it up and roll it back to the truck or wherever you want.”
The ALED is equipped with many safety features. As the drone, which is made of foam, goes up and down, the base will flash red and emit a beeping sound similar to a backup alarm. These audible and visual indicators will also occur in the event of low power. If the ALED loses power, both the drone and base are equipped with small backup batteries to enable the drone to safely land itself. If the tether were somehow severed, the drone would still be able to land itself, Schumann said. “We’ve designed our ALED specifically to maximize safety and ease of use.”
Blue Vigil is currently taking pre-orders for the ALED, with production planned for the last quarter of 2023 or the first quarter of 2024.