Drone Inspections Leading to Improved Bridges and Structures Across the Country

Drones only excited in science fiction movies until only a few years ago. Now, drones can be found all over the place. These innovative devices are not only extremely common, they are integral to the way various industries are advancing their technological abilities.

Drones are being used to provide medical relief, to drop off groceries, and so much more. Perhaps one of the most important abilities that drones can offer is the ability to thoroughly inspect difficult-to-reach areas like bridges.

Drones can be equipped with electrochemical fatigue crack sensor systems, which can detect cracks in the field as small as 0.01 inches in an actual structure.

“Once a drone detects something, it can send the message or the results back to the computer, and it will make the whole performance and user experience much better,” said Winnie Chu, Business Group Lead, Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft Hong Kong.

There are 612,677 bridges in the U.S. and the annual Federal Highway Administration 2018 bridge deficiency report found that more than 54,000 of them — roughly 9% of all bridges — have at least one key element that is in poor or worse condition. Drone technology is making it much easier to inspect, plan, and improve everything from the structural integrity of a bridge to its visual appearance.

“An important component of mobility is being able to understand whether or not the transportation system you’re looking at can effectively move goods and people based on the condition of the infrastructure,” said Colin Brooks, research scientist at Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI). “We can do things from the air, from vehicles… and underwater. It all depends on what the phenomenon is that you’re trying to understand.”

According an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials study, 35 state DoTs are utilizing drones for a variety of purposes, with 20 of them using drone technology on a daily basis and 15 actively searching and testing drones in order to determine how they can best put them to work.

Drones can be utilized to inspect not only bridges and various structures, but to take a look at powerful machinery as well. The construction equipment sector if projected to grow 12% by 2026, and drones being able to quickly, efficiently, and effectively inspect all kinds of heavy machinery will help the entire construction sector adjust for this expected growth.

In addition to bridge and machine inspection, here are some of the other building and agricultural structures that drones can effectively inspect:

  • Wind turbines
  • Weather patterns and storms
  • Gardens
  • Homes
  • Farm fields
  • Mountains
  • Insect communities
  • Animal habitats

“We see drones as empowering workers and becoming a new tool in the toolbox,” added Kevin On, Global Marketing and Communications director of DJI, a Chinese technology company.



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