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ATLANTA -- "Put your hand over it." Dr. Javier Irizarry is talking to a visitor in his lab at Georgia Tech. Irizarry is firing up four motors on a battery-powered aircraft that's the size of a small pizza.

The visitor's hand hovers over the aircraft, which gets airborne but gets only six inches of altitude. The hand prevents it from going higher.

This could be the next big thing in traffic management.

The aircraft is fitted with cameras, controlled by Irizarry and his Ipad. Irizarry is researching its potential for the Georgia Department of Transportation. A variation of it could be an airborne supplement to DOT's existing network of traffic cameras.

"To be able to better assess traffic conditions in areas where there are no cameras, or where the cameras have limited field of view or range," Irizarry said.

Georgia Tech's drone research extends beyond the laboratory.

At Ft. Benning, researchers tested military applications for its gasoline powered unmanned air vehicles this week. But researchers say the civilian potential is equally extensive -- including using drone technology to provide real time traffic counts, supplemented by mobile airborne images.

"Just like with your Iphone and all the apps that have been developed for your Iphone that you never imagined ten years ago, people are going to imagine the uses of these unmanned air vehicles very quickly," said Dr. Lora Weiss, technical director for autonomous systems at Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Though it's still a few years away, it could start by aiding an age-old problem: How to make motorists on the ground drive smarter.

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