• UAV Selection Methodology and Performance Evaluation to Support UAV-Enabled Bridge Inspection

    NCDOT Research Project Number: 2020-23

 Executive Summary

  • This project performed preliminary work to support use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)-based for bridge inspections, providing an economical and safer alternative to conventional inspection practices. The main challenge is that most existing technologies rely on general-purpose UAV platforms and there is no verified methodology for UAV-enabled bridge inspection principles and relevant considerations to reliably obtain inspection data. 

    There have been some efforts to use general-purpose commercially available UAVs for bridge inspection. However, the turbulent environment that often exists around bridges requires customized and enhanced UAV platforms with a higher level of robustness, taking into account the bridge type and structure as well as the weather conditions around the bridge. 


    Additionally, the data-acquisition capabilities of commercially available UAVs need to be compared to those required for bridge inspection. Previously, there has not been a study to quantify the gap between the performance of the commercially available UAVs and ideal desired performances. In this multidisciplinary project, a comprehensive set of experiments were developed for selection, testing, and evaluation techniques of candidate UAVs, the complex nature of flying UAVs in close proximity to bridges was explored, and the limitations of UAV flight due to turbulent flows around bridge components and nearby terrain was assessed. Commercially available platforms for bridge inspection were selected, tested, and evaluated. 


    Deliverables from this project include: (1) measurable metrics to evaluate the performance of UAVs for bridge inspection, (2) experiments to test the suitability of UAVs for bridge inspection, and (3) a comprehensive analysis near-bridge environment flow field. Computational analysis of air flow patterns near bridge elements shows that the bridge geometry creates areas of turbulence and flow variation which impact the control requirements of the UAV. Local weather conditions can amplify these areas.

    Test flights were performed at selected structures to provide additional insight into the flight and data collection capabilities of the UAVs under consideration. Findings and deliverables from this project will help NCDOT justify capital purchases made to support UAV-assisted inspection, as well as additional research needed to integrate UAVs into their current bridge inspection processes. Ultimately, this work supports a follow-up project to develop workflows and implementation tools for efficient UAV-enabled bridge inspection. ​​

Ali Karimoddini
Ali Karimoddini; Abdollah Homaifar; Tara L. Cavalline
Thomas Walls
Mustan Kadibhai, PE, CPM
NC A&T State University
UNC Charlotte

 Report Period

  • August 1, 2019 - October 31, 2021


  • Complete


  • Structures, Construction and Geotechnical

 Sub Category

  • Bridge Maintenance and Management

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