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3 Key Benefits of Incorporating Drone Technology into Structural Inspections

3 Key Benefits of Incorporating Drone Technology into Structural Inspections

Since the first commercial drone permit was issued in 2006, interest in drones has skyrocketed. Drone technology has experienced rapid growth with increasing adoption both recreationally and commercially. Across industries, the number of business applications for drone technology continues to grow significantly.

Consider this: large structures, such as bridges and dams, require regular inspection to ensure public safety. Using drone technology to supplement those inspections, in many circumstances, leads to increased efficiency and effectiveness of hands-on inspections.

On structural inspections, incorporating drone technology presents opportunities and numerous benefits:

  1. Drones capture data from unique vantage points.

    The far-reaching mobility of drones allows them to capture data from unique vantage points that are typically unattainable by an inspector alone. Drone footage also can be used to produce imagery of structures including noted deficiencies. Once the inspection is complete, the recorded data can be transmitted in real time to other devices and imported into other software packages for multiple uses including 3D modeling, rehab/repair plan development, overall condition assessments and future reference.
    Barberton Dam Inspection
  2. Drones yield high-quality, precise structural representations.

    Compared to other methods, such as using a pole-mounted camera or GoPro, drones can provide 4k ultra-precise imagery quickly, safely, and effectively. Sensors within the drone utilize satellite positioning for stability, keeping the camera level and in the preferred horizontal orientation, making it simple to capture high-quality and accurate representations of structural components with enhanced accuracy.
    Glover Cary Bridge Load Rating & Fracture Critical Inspection
  3. Drones can reach areas with limited accessibility to supplement hands-on inspections.

    When accessibility is limited due to hazards or other physical constraints, drones can be deployed to supplement arms-length inspections. By visually capturing conditions and geometry, drones allow inspectors to efficiently perform visual assessments from afar. And in emergency situations where a damage assessment is required, utilizing a drone may be the only and/or safest option.
    Jackson Pike WWTP Inspection

Take this real-life application for example: When shop drawings were unavailable to perform gusset plate load ratings on the Glover Cary Bridge, B&N bridge inspectors marked reference dimensions on the gusset plates and deployed drones to take elevation photographs of each connection. The photographs were used to measure all pertinent dimensions, allowing the load rating calculations to be completed much more efficiently than by other conventional methods.

The benefits of drone technology can make an incredible difference and are worth considering on your next inspection project. To see how B&N inspectors are leveraging the latest in drone technology, check out this video: Drones Save Time and Provide a Unique Vantage Point for Structural Inspections

Mike Kronander, PE, Bridge Inspection Engineer

Mike Kronander, PE 
Bridge Inspection Engineer