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GCN : October and November 2016
GCN OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2016 • GCN.COM 33 Drones get up close and personal with bridges The Minnesota Department of Transportation is evaluating whether unmanned aerial systems can take some of the cost and danger out of bridge inspections As the nation’s infrastructure ages, bridge inspections are critical — but expensive. Having people check the undersides of bridges from scaffolding or special trucks with telescoping arms takes time, costs money and endangers workers. That’s why the Minnesota Department of Trans- portation has been evaluating the use of drones to inspect some of the state’s bridges. Besides keeping costs down, improving safety and avoiding the traffic disruptions that manual bridge inspections can cause, the use of unmanned aerial systems could also improve the quality of inspections. Therefore, state officials wanted to test a range of imaging technologies associated with drones, such as high-definition still images, videos, infrared sensors and 3-D imaging software. They did so in two phases. First, the project team used drones to inspect four bridges and evaluated their effective- ness in improving inspection quality and inspector safety. Then they tested UAS imaging capabilities on the state’s John A. Blatnik Bridge in Duluth. Specifically, the team wanted to know how drones performed in confined spaces and how they aided in inspection planning and emergency responses to bridge hits when it’s unsafe for inspectors to investigate. The project team inspected three types of bridges — a steel box girder, a steel culvert and an arch bridge — using SenseFly’s eXom drone, which is designed for mapping and inspection work. Based on those tests, department of- ficials plan to identify the types, locations and conditions of bridges best suited to drone inspections. They will also issue a report detailing new technology that is specific to inspections, a cost comparison to traditional methods, the advantages and disadvantages of using drones for bridge inspections, and a best-practices document. Eventually, officials want to award a statewide contract for all bridges that meet the criteria for drone inspections. — Amanda Ziadeh DARPA’s extra eyes for the crowded skies The Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System uses optical sense- and-avoid technology to allow aircraft to detect and track other approaching aircraft in real time With the recent onslaught of unmanned aircraft, the skies over the United States are becoming more crowded and poten- tially dangerous. But a new system from researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency aims to prevent collisions. The Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Auto- mation System (ALIAS), developed and tested by DARPA, will provide reliable sense-and-avoid technology to allow air- crews to detect and track when they are approaching other aircraft. Using a small plug-and-play system, DARPA successfully tested the effectiveness of ALIAS earlier this year with a Cessna 172G aircraft approaching an unmanned aerial system from multiple angles. The compact, low-cost solution is Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems 1116gcn_032-055.indd 33 10/6/16 12:49 PM
August and September 2016
January and February 2017