Drone Inspection

Will drones revolutionise bridge inspection?

There are now over 800,000 kilometres of roads and over 30,000 bridges in the Australian transportation network. Millions of commuters rely on the transportation network. Thus, the reliability and safety of these infrastructure elements are critical for the Australian economy.

To ensure the desired serviceability of the asset components and required level of safety is maintained, it is critical that detailed information about the bridge deterioration be recorded. Further analysis of the gathered data enables the asset manager to identify the deterioration rate and pattern and therefore, allocate resources for maintenance or remediation work.

Currently, bridges are inspected through conventional methods including traditional bridge access methods such as under-bridge inspection units, mobile scaffolding, boom lifts and cherry pickers; for all, traffic control is a prerequisite. Whilst this approach to bridge inspection facilitates inspection to be undertaken close to the point of interest in the structure, it requires considerable time for planning and execution and is also very resource intensive, as well as causing interruption to traffic flow in some instances.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPSs) - commonly known as drones - offer substantial potential in undertaking visual inspection with high accuracy and reduced risk to bridge crew, allowing a bridge to be visually inspected without the need for inspectors to walk across the deck or utilise under-bridge inspection units. This can significantly reduce the overall inspection costs and disruption caused to the general public. In addition to this, the use of air borne Aerial Photogrammetry enables engineers and asset managers to analyse a situation through the 3D spatial model offered by RPA systems.

Our Bridge Engineering and Asset Management (BEAM) team at the Centre for Infrastructure Engineering (CIE), has collaborated with RMS to trial remotely-piloted aircraft for bridge inspections.

As part of this feasibility study, qualified pilots from our team and RMS used a high-end drone at St Albans Bridge. The effective use of drones will help manage the technical risks associated with bridge assets inspection more efficiently and safely.

Dr. Maria Rashidi from Western Sydney University and Mr. Houman Hatamian, the senior welding engineer from RMS, presented the progress of the trial at the 12th RMS’s Bridge Conference: held on 6-7 December 2017 at the Powerhouse Museum.

Project Head: Dr. Maria Rashidi