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DRONE USE FOR CIVIL INFRASTRUCTURE MANAGEMENT

The inspection of civil infrastructure like bridges, towers and buildings are expensive, time consuming and often hazardous. Drone technology can make the inspection of civil infrastructure more efficient, effective and safer.

BRIDGE INSPECTION

One of the critical infrastructure needs across the United States relates to bridges. Over 54,000 bridges in the infrastructure are structurally deficient. That is nearly 9% of all the bridges in the country. Assessing the state of bridges is requiring an increasing amount of time and resources.

A recent study by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found that 20 state DOTs are using drones to assess the condition of bridges daily, while 15 more are testing drones and determining how they can be used in that process. Drones are capable of collecting far more detailed inspection data compared to more traditional inspection equipment. And drones collect all the necessary data without interfering with traffic, a big cost savings. The Michigan DOT estimates that shutting down a four-lane highway bridge for the 10-hour period a traditional bridge inspection takes costs approximately $14,600. AASHTO has also found that a manual inspection requires twice as many people and costs upwards of 18 times more than using drones to conduct the inspection.

Drones collect high definition images and visual data in hard to reach areas such as the bridge undersides along their beams and girders. Operators can capture high resolution images from inspection flights, or target and outline an area to take oblique imagery from four directions. Drones can also precisely refly previous flight patterns to gather images from the same area and compare them at different time intervals to gauge deterioration and changes in infrastructure. All without the need to risk human maintenance assets.

TOWER INSPECTION REQUIREMENTS

Towers. They’re everywhere. Communication companies with cell and radio towers, cities with water towers, utility companies with power transmission towers, and more. All of these towers require regular maintenance and before they can begin a preliminary survey must be done to determine what work is required and where.

More and more these surveys are done with drones. A drone can identify potential climbing hazards, find structural damage, and help maintenance people know what will be required prior to climbing. Once drones gather their information, tower inspectors can address issues revealed in the data. Drones reduce the amount of time personnel are around the tower, making them more efficient and safer.

This makes drones safer than putting people on a tower to do an initial inspection. Drones are also faster than a person climbing a tower. Drones can do a thorough inspection in a couple of short flights, and costs less. Drones also identify hazards on the tower, such as beehives and bird nests. These can be dangerous to inspectors, and drones are making inspections safer for the inspectors as well as the animals.

BUILDING INSPECTION SERVICE

Drones are also used more and more in building inspections. Large insurance companies like Allstate have recognized the benefits of using drones to help with its building inspections, and is building a large drone capability to do so. Rather than putting people on ladders to get closer to the building infrastructure, drones can be used to take detailed imagery of an entire building in a few flights. With their speed, drones also cover more building infrastructure quicker than an inspector. Drones can survey the entire roof of a large warehouse in less than half the time it would take an inspector to walk the same roof.

By using drones to conduct initial inspections, as well as to conduct follow-up inspections, maintenance personnel know what to expect before they need to lay actual hands on the infrastructure. This allows them to plan what personnel, tools and repair supplies will be required. These items can all be planned and prepositioned before maintenance is performed.

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