Drones for Improving Traffic Safety of the RITI Communities in Washington State

In this research, the study team aims to explore and synthesize the opportunities, challenges, and scenarios that drone technologies may help develop context-sensitive solutions to resolve traffic safety related challenges in Rural, Isolated, Tribal or Indigenous (RITI) communities. Although drones have been extensively tested in both urban and rural areas for various purposes (e.g., search and rescue, deliveries, etc.), their uses in RITI communities have not been fully explored. As a promising emerging technology, drones may help provide economic and effective solutions to solve safety challenges. However, drones also have their own limitations requiring the need to be aware of, in particular when applied to RITI communities. More importantly, it is crucial to first understand the unique traffic safety needs and challenges in RITI communities. For this, the study team will conduct data collection by proper communications with residents and representatives of the communities. In this process, the study needs to consider the unique cultural characteristics of the communities, as well as their specific social/economic/education resource limitations. Synthesizing state of the art drone technologies and the identified community safety needs/challenges can help reveal specific situations under which drones may help develop a viable solution. This project focuses on two neighboring RITI communities, Aberdeen and Hoquiam, on the Pacific Ocean, Located in the Olympic peninsula. The two communities are historically supported by timber, ship-building and canning industries that have been undergoing a long-term decline. They currently face many social and economic challenges including high unemployment and poverty, low education, and residential instability. For example, the proportion of the Aberdeen’s residents who live below the poverty level (18%) is almost double of the state average (10.9%). Traffic safety issues as identified previously (such as high accident and fatality rates) exacerbate the social/economic challenges in the two RITI communities, calling for specific and effective solutions that at the same time respect the culture and tradition of the community residents.