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Drones (UAS) for Bridge Inspections A New Approach

August 8th, 2017   Author: Doug Thaler

Drones The approach to utilizing Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for bridge inspections

 

in regards to incorporating same into the realm of structural bridge inspections is long overdue and is welcomed due to the system’s ability to access areas of bridge which would normally require the archaic and oft utilized approach of requiring the incorporation of travel lane closures, costly under-bridge access equipment, and the requirements of conducting bridge inspections at night as not to interrupt traffic flow.

State by state departments of transportation are researching the viability of drone inspections on our nations infrastructure.  Using a drone for Bridge inspection services add a valuable resource in the bridge inspectors toolbox.

Whereas, for safety reasons, a UAS (being a machine) will never be incorporated and utilized over live traffic, however, its ability to provide stand-off positioning adjacent and parallel to the bridge structure for deck inspections is unsurpassed.

A UAS can be used quickly and efficiently to conduct a full bridge structure inspection, which in turn, will identity areas which might require a more hands-on and thorough inspection of structural deficiencies revealed.   The cost savings enjoyed by the bridge owner who selects an inspection consultant which utilizes a UAS inspection approach and program, versus the under-bridge equipment method, is practically infinite. 

DETAILED REQUIREMENT FOR DRONE USE IN BRIDGE INSPECTIONS 
Drones (UAS) for Bridge InspectionsThe UAS will be fitted with high resolution video cameras which will transmit real-time inspection views and inspection progress, infrared thermography (IR) cameras which reveal delamination locations and perimeters of same in concrete surfaces, and a laser-based measuring device which will denote the width of structural cracks discovered. All the data will be transmitted, via telemetry; to the ground-based Command Center System which will in turn collect and archive all data received for submittal to, and reviewed by, the bridge owner, which will be used for future comparison and reference.

The above information and data will be incorporated into a final bridge inspection report to be submitted to the bridge owner. At that time, a meeting between the bridge owner and the inspection will be conducted to discuss findings of the UAS inspection, what these findings mean in relation to the Health Index of the bridge, and then further discuss the need for work order-driven repair approaches and requirements.

This information shall be kept and secured by the UAS inspection consultant at all times, and if required and directed by the bridge owner upon their receipt of all bridge inspection related data, the UAS inspection consultant shall delete all files related to the bridge inspection.

INCORPORATING UAS INTO BRIDGE INSPECTIONS
The incorporation of UASs into viable bridge inspection

bridge inspectionsprocedures is a long overdue and very welcomed approach, since all of us who have been involved in onsite bridge inspection projects for many years know the inherent dangers required for us to perform our duties in regards to maintaining the trust of the traveling public that the nation’s bridges are safe. Instead of human inspectors risking life, limb and injury to perform their duties in avenues of active traffic, rappelling structural bridge members, and accessing areas on a bridge by massive manlifts and/or under-bridge machines, we now have what was once considered insurmountable, to now having the option of machines performing these duties in our stead. One can replace a UAS easily, but a human life is irreplaceable.

In all likelihood, and until the UAS manufacturers can provide a fool-proof and nearly indestructible machine which will be guaranteed to be free of any and all malfunctions, a UAS will not replace the hands-on inspection requirements related to Fracture Critical members of a bridge nor will a UAS be able to access the tight connections within a through-truss bridge nor a deck-truss bridge, but many areas are now within easy reach by utilizing UASs safely.

For more expert information on bridge inspections using drones contact [email protected]

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