May 24, 2024

A drone that paints over graffiti has been launched in Washington state under a new pilot program, according to a press release from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). And if the new spray drones succeed, one could easily imagine other municipalities across the country embracing drones for graffiti removal in hard-to-reach places.

The Washington state legislature passed a bill last month that allocates $1 million for fighting graffiti. One part of the program is for upgrading traffic cameras to make it easier to identify people spraying graffiti along the state’s roads. But the second part of the bill calls for testing new ways to remove graffiti in high places that are difficult to paint—removal that can become expensive very quickly.

“Specialized trucks, called UBITs, are needed for hard-to-reach graffiti. These trucks are in high demand, and we have six of them to cover the state. They are usually reserved for higher-priority bridge maintenance and inspection work,” the WSDOT said in a new blog on Monday.

Mike Gauger, a member of the Tacoma area maintenance crew at WSDOT, is credited with hatching the idea for the graffiti-fighting drones, but there were no off-the-shelf drones being sold for that kind of work. Gauger connected with a drone company called Aquiline, which already had a drone model called Endure used for window washing and roof cleaning.

The first attempt at building a drone that could spray paint properly malfunctioned, according to WSDOT, but after some modifications a working drone has now been achieved that meets the maintenance team’s needs. WSDOT uploaded a video to YouTube showing the drone in action.

Graffiti drone test flight

WSDOT believes this is the first graffiti-removal drone program ever launched and that seems like an accurate assessment. Drones have been used in recent years for all kinds of non-traditional applications, like the flame-throwing drone that incinerates trash from power lines or water-spraying drones tested for fighting fires.

Washington’s highway maintenance employees with existing Part 107 drone licenses are being trained on the new drones under this pilot program and field testing will continue this year primarily in the cities of Tacoma and Olympia.

Even though the drones will allow work crews to reach places that were previously more difficult, there are still plenty of hurdles that may trip up the tests.

“Legally, drones cannot be flown over active lanes of traffic, so the areas we are treating will be in closed work zones or managed with rolling slowdown closures while the drones are in use,” WSDOT wrote on Monday.

WSDOT will submit a report to the state legislature in December about its progress. And if it works, we wouldn’t be surprised to see other cities and states investigate how they can use drones to paint over graffiti across the country.

A version of this article originally appeared on Gizmodo.

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