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Drones for Bridge Inspections

By February 7, 2020October 7th, 2020No Comments

Drones offer significant and measurable benefits in the inspection of bridges and other critical pieces of infrastructure. Drones are a safe, reliable, and cost-effective tool that can help keep workers out of harm’s way, avoid traffic detours, reduce the duration of inspections, and eliminate the need for costly heavy equipment.

Traditional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), however, have shortcomings that prevent them from operating under the conditions necessary for bridge inspections.

Digital Aerolus’s Aertos drones have been designed to fly stably and predictably in environments where other drones can’t, including underground, near steel and metal, over water, and in the dark, making them ideal drones for bridge inspections.

Benefits Of Using Drones For Bridge Inspections

Drones offer the potential to cut costs, provide better data, and improve worker safety during bridge inspections.

Using drones for bridge inspections greatly reduces the costs associated with the inspection. Minnesota Department of Transportation, which has conducted research focused on utilizing drones as a tool for improving the quality of bridge inspections, notes that a typical bridge inspection utilizing three snooper inspection vehicles and requiring eight inspection days equates to a cost of approximately $59,000.

The same inspection using a drone would require only two workers — a pilot and a spotter — and can be completed in a few hours at a fraction of the cost.

Drones also greatly improve worker safety. Traditional inspection processes require significant coordination, such as traffic control, and put workers at risk. Drones can easily access areas that are difficult or dangerous for humans to reach, such as under bridges or along rail tracks. They allow workers to maintain a greater standoff distance and still gather the data needed to perform inspections.

Drones offer the ability to collect far more detailed inspection data compared to traditional inspection equipment such as snoopers. They make it easy to collect high-definition images from confined and inaccessible spaces, including underneath bridges and along beams and girders. Drones can provide both 3D and infrared modeling detail of bridges, identify areas of concrete delamination, gather topographic mapping detail, and efficiently map riverbank conditions near the bridge site.

Challenges Of Using Drones For Bridge Inspections

Conventional UAVs have shortcomings that have historically prevented them from operating under the conditions necessary to complete a bridge inspection. Most drones have trouble under bridges due to wind, poor GPS signals, the presence of metal, and difficulty maneuvering in tight and confined spaces.

Most drones rely on GPS for stable flight. GPS signals, with wavelengths of ~190 mm and ~240 MM, generally require an uninterrupted line of sight and do not penetrate metal or soil. As soon as a conventional UAV navigates close to the concrete and steel rebar infrastructure of a highway bridge, it fails and crashes.

Many drones also have a limited range of sight and are unable to angle their cameras upwards, which is necessary to examine the underside of bridges.

The Solution: Aertos® Family of Drones

Digital Aerolus builds commercial UAS that are specifically intended to operate in areas without GPS, including underneath bridges, in close proximity to reinforced concrete walls, and in and through culverts and tunnels.

Unlike conventional aircraft, Aertos drones do not rely on GPS for stable flight. Aertos drones are specifically designed to navigate in environments where GPS and internet signals are not available.

Aertos drones have recently completed successful missions where conventional drones cannot fly, including in proximity to steel, metal, concrete, rock, and other materials that have historically prevented UAVs from operating.

Aertos drones do not rely on offshore hardware, or on companies based in foreign countries. Our drones are American made.

Use Case #1: Highway Bridge Inspection

Eric’s firm contracts with the State Department of Transportation to inspect and maintain bridges and culverts supporting an interstate highway. He wants to use a camera on a drone to inspect bolts for excessive rust, and concrete for spalling, so he can recommend maintenance procedures.

Eric is a licensed drone pilot. He knows that conventional drone technology does not work for this application. By deploying an Aertos drone from Digital Aerolus, and navigating it into the GPS- and signal-denied spaces under the bridges, Eric is able to complete his mission.

Use Case #2: Railroad Bridge Inspection

Adam is a railroad worker assigned to perform a fracture-critical inspection of a bridge to ascertain whether any new cracks have appeared or any existing cracks have propagated since the last inspection.

After obtaining approval from railroad flaggers that entry into the railroad right-of-way is safe, Adam deploys an Aertos drone, flying it to just beneath the steel floor beams of the bridge. He uses the gimbal to angle the drone’s inspection camera upward to scan the floor beams for existing or new cracks. Each floor beam may be thoroughly examined in approximately one minute without the use of a bridge inspection truck or crane.

Since Adam remains at ground level throughout the entire inspection process, it is easy for him to maintain continuous communication with the traffic control manager and the railroad flaggers.

Learn More

Digital Aerolus Aertos drones are built and designed using revolutionary industrial science, allowing for stable flight in confined spaces and areas that don’t allow GPS navigation. Our drones’ ability to fly in confined spaces is a breakthrough, especially for use in infrastructure.

Contact us today to learn more about our industrial drones and how they can help you increase efficiencies, improve worker safety, and reduce inspection costs.