Researchers at the University of Nevada have developed a robot capable of autonomous bridge inspection.
The condition of bridges can deteriorate quickly as materials age and the weather takes its toll. When maintenance is inadequate and regular inspections aren’t carried out, these problems are exacerbated.
There are plenty of sophisticated methods of evaluation that allow maintenance crews to develop a picture of bridge health without damaging the structure. These include ground penetrating radar (GPR), acoustic emission and electrical resistivity (ER).
Although they are cost effective, these inspection methods are far from ideal. Often, bridges have to be closed down while crews go about their work. The data gathered can also take time to analyze and act upon.
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Seekur robot offers real-time analysis of structural integrity
A team from the Advanced Robotics and Automation (ARA) Laboratory at the University of Nevada has been working on a solution to perfect the bridge inspection process.
The autonomous robot system, Seekur Jnr, is equipped with three different sensors. The ground-penetrating radar allows it to search beneath the surface for underlying problems; sensors scan for corrosion to steel or cement and a visual camera spots cracks in the bridge’s surface.
The data gathered is analyzed in real-time using machine learning and a pattern recognition algorithm. Crews are then given instantaneous access to a color-coded map outlining the bridge’s weak spots.
So far, the ARA team has tested the robot on road bridges in Nevada, New Hampshire, Maine and Montana. It proved both faster and more precise than conventional inspection teams.
“The robot takes the same amount of time to physically scan the bridge as a human inspector but it processes the data in minutes instead of hours,” researcher Spencer Gibb told The New Scientist.
Autonomous and adaptable bridge inspection
As well as providing a cheaper, more efficient way to inspect bridges, Seekur can be adapted to suit the task at hand. As the research paper highlights, the robot can be equipped with various sensors, making it an all-in-one tool for engineers that can be used globally.
In a recent report titled ‘Clarity from Above‘, authors from management consultancy PwC point out that capital investment in transport infrastructure is on the rise around the world and has been for some time. This is especially true in emerging economies across Latin America and Africa.
As a result, maintenance costs are also rising. The level of investment from global infrastructure operators is following suit and is predicted to grow 4.5 percent annually between now and 2020.
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