Eye in the Sky Keeps Bridges Safe

Faster, cheaper, and safer bridge inspections through drones.

Drones can take up some of the burden of inspecting Australia’s 50,000 bridges, research from Western Sydney University has shown. Bridge management researcher, Dr Maria Rashidi from the Centre for Infrastructure Engineering and her team have partnered with Roads and Maritime Services New South Wales to test drone technology for visual bridge inspections. They have shown that drones can be faster, cheaper, safer, and more reliable than manual inspections. 

Rashidi has focussed on bridge management since her PhD and she says caring for this essential element of transport infrastructure is a big task. “More than 80% of Australia’s bridges were built before 1976, and require routine visual inspection every two years to ascertain proper performance,” Rashidi says. 

To see if drones could help, the team used a professional-specification drone with triple-redundancy safety systems for battery and rotors to capture images of four bridges from multiple angles. For large bridges, drones were generally faster and cheaper than conventional inspection, the pilot study showed.

Need to know

  • There are 50,000 bridges in Australia.    
  • Each bridge must be visually assessed every two years.
  • Drone bridge visual inspections are generally faster and cheaper within the limits of the technology.    

The results have encouraged Roads and Maritime Services New South Wales engineer, Houman Hatamian. “Drones are particularly useful in cases where access puts bridge inspectors at risk, or conventional access methods are prohibitively costly, or require traffic control that may affect commuters,” he says.

Rashidi, Hatamian, and the team are now collaborating on the second phase of the research project, testing artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches to enhance the accuracy of data collected.

“Since the first pilot project, we have been approached by different agencies and transportation authorities for drone projects,” Rashidi says. The team also recently began using their expertise to help with the conservation of heritage bridges, she adds. 


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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.