A robotics team in Nevada has built an autonomous droid that can survey the health of bridges completely on its own using ground penetrating radar.
Inspecting the steel plates inside bridges used to be a very slow and expensive process, which involved teams of surveyors having to drill into the surrounding concrete to check the steel inside. It was improved in the 1980s with the introduction of radar (which removed the drilling element), but now a team from the University of Nevada has come up with a robot that could also remove the need for humans completely.
Spencer Gibb and his team has built the world’s first fully functioning robot bridge inspector, a four-wheeled battery-powered contraption that’s waterproof and trundles back and forth across the bridge using ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity sensors to look out for steel that’s started to corrode and concrete that’s weakened. Any cracks on the surface can easily be spotted by its camera.
Gibb and the team took the robot to four road bridges in Nevada, Montana and Maine. On all four bridges, their robot was faster and more accurate than a team of human inspectors. Gibb explained: “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.” Another benefit is the robot can perform the inspection while the road is still being used – a human team need it closing off, making it much more inconvenient and costly.
It’s only recently a team from the US developed the technique of using microwaves to find corrosion in metal and concrete. We’re also seeing more and more robots being built for the job of inspection – these autonomous fish are tasked with monitoring water health. Will eventually all inspection roles be handed over to robots?