Missouri Provides More Funds for Bridge Repair Technology

A computer-generated illustration of an unmanned aerial vehicle with a top-mounted camera inspecting the underside structure of a bridge.

Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) (Rolla, Missouri, USA) are engaged in a five-year project to develop robotic tools to inspect, maintain, and repair state bridges, highways, and other infrastructure. According to the school, those efforts could soon be aided by a recently announced proposal from Governor Mike Parson to use $351 million in bond funds to repair ~250 bridges across the state.

Through a school program known as Inspecting and Preserving Infrastructure through Robotic Exploration (INSPIRE), Missouri S&T researchers are creating technologies that inspect bridges without disrupting traffic. The work involves unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as robots capable of crawling up the side and underside of a bridge to inspect pillars or bridge decks.

“We are developing robotic arms for both flying and climbing unmanned vehicles to inspect and maintain bridges and other transportation infrastructure,” says Genda Chen, chair of the school’s civil engineering department and director of INSPIRE. The INSPIRE center is funded by an annual grant of $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation (Washington, DC, USA). “Once this technology is developed and in use, we will not need to close traffic for bridge inspection and preservation,” Chen adds.

In addition to inspecting bridges, the robotic arms could apply sealant or paint to bridge sections, all guided remotely by engineers who monitor the work on a screen and visually verify the results. Chen envisions equipping robots with sensors and microwave cameras capable of detecting potential issues inside bridge beams and decks before they become problematic.

“With the arrival of the robotic era, we expect bridge inspection to be reinvented and transformed into a faster, cheaper, safer, and more consistent process,” Chen says.

In all, the Missouri Department of Transportation (Jefferson City, Missouri, USA) has identified 4,800 bridges in need of repair across the state.

Source: Missouri S&T, news.mst.edu.