Missouri S&T wants to use drones to inspect bridges

Jun 3, 2013

Chris Seto controls the multicopter while Dr. Zhaozheng Yin (far left) and Yunxiang Mao observe.
Chris Seto controls the multicopter while Dr. Zhaozheng Yin (far left) and Yunxiang Mao observe.
Credit Missouri S&T

As avid explorers of drone technology ourselves, we were excited to hear about Missouri S&T's experiments using drones to aid in bridge inspection. Full Disclosure: I run the Missouri Drone Journalism Program, which is no stranger to controversy.

While we've mostly used drones to look down on event on the ground, S&T is building quadcopter and hexocopters that look up at bridges while hovering beneath them. In the S&T press release Professor Zhaozheng Yin said:

“Imagine you need to perform a check-up on a bridge that is over an extremely fast-flowing river, or even spans a section of the ocean,” says Yin. “The standard procedures are extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming. With a multicopter, you have a feasible solution to a dangerous problem.”

It's a compelling idea given the extra attention around bridge health and security in light of the dramatic collapse in southeast Missouri.  Check out some of the  unwieldy current technologies bridge inspectors are using:

A bridge inspection in Missouri.
A bridge inspection in Missouri.
Credit MoDOT

Funding from the S&T project come from Lockheed Martin and Mid-America Transportation Center a consortium of mid-western universities. It may be a coincidence, but the lead university in the group is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which is also home to the Drone Journalism Lab.