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Bridges come in all shapes and sizes but they all have something in common; they are susceptible to weathering and deterioration. Inspecting and monitoring the condition of a bridge can be the difference between a long life span or a catastrophe. However, it is not always easy to complete a bridge inspection. There are areas that are difficult to access, there is motor vehicle traffic nearby, and there are safety concerns when working from great heights. Thus, bridge inspections can be time consuming, costly, and pose a safety risk.
Rise of the Drones
In the last five years the technological advancements in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones) has be revolutionary. UAVs use GPS and position sensors to manoeuvre as directed by the pilot. This allows the drone to remain in a fixed position and to sense if it is getting ‘too close’ to an object. The stability of the UAV is unmatched enabling smooth video. Up to 4k video can be recorded and up to 120 fps is available at 1080p. The still camera is a 14MP camera capable of taking photos of cracks, weld failures, and loose mortar. A single inspection can be completed with one battery in under 20 minutes. A battery swap allows for longer inspection times.
To complete the inspection, it takes no time to set up and then the inspection can begin. The set up time is minimal as there is no scaffolding that needs to be erected and minimal safety systems are needed to be placed. This translates to faster inspections, lower costs and less downtime. The UAV inspection is also safer compared to traditional inspections as no workers are placed in vulnerable positions.
There is a live video stream from the perspective of the UAV so the inspection can be watched in real time. The photography and video footage can be made available immediately after the craft has landed. Post-processing the images would take a single day.
With technological advancements the applications of drones can be used for more than just inspections. Using post-processing software, which takes the drone photos, GPS coordinates, and orientation metrics, a computer model is created. A drone can scan an average size bridge in less than 20 minutes. This is because of the vantage point of the drone and its easy manoeuvrability. One scan could include upwards of 10 million data points.
Once the raw data is processed, a fully navigable 3D model, with centimetre accuracy is created. This model can be used to share information about the project with anyone around the world, to create as-built CAD drawings, to create topographical maps, to analyze drainage, and many more applications.
Like all good things there is a catch. Operating a drone can present risks which is why Transport Canada (Canada) and The Federal Aviation Administration (USA) have put certain laws in place. The idea is to make sure that the pilot is experienced and properly trained, and the equipment is certified and adequately insured. Not all self claimed drone surveying companies abide by these government mandates so be sure to ask to see their certificates before liftoff.Read More
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