The goals of this multidisciplinary project are to develop workflows that can facilitate the deployment of UAVs to assist human inspectors in co-inspecting bridges, to develop guidance to support identification of candidate bridges for UAV-enabled inspection, and to develop guidance to support integration of data obtained by UAV into inspection reports. The developed workflows will be implementable at scale in the sense that inspectors and pilots with minimum FAA-required knowledge for the UAV operation should be able to use a UAV and the workflow to support their inspections of a subset of structures. Engaging with NCDOT Aviation and Structures Management Unit (SMU) personnel throughout the project, the research team will develop the workflow in a manner that supports the direct integration with current bridge inspection and reporting practices. During the project, NCDOT stakeholders will gain experience with UAV-enabled inspection and will provide input to support development of deliverables.
The findings from this project will help to improve the current bridge inspection practices by achieving the following objectives: (1) Identifying bridge inspection challenges through interactions with NCDOT's Structures Management Unit and consulting firms with NHI certified bridge inspectors, (2) Developing a general workflow for UAV-enabled bridge inspection including the logistics that are required for pre-inspection, during the inspection, and post-inspection, (3) Implementation and assessment of the developed UAV-assisted bridge inspection workflow, (4) Developing guidance to support identification of candidate bridges for UAV-enabled inspection, (5) Developing guidance to support integration of data obtained by UAV into inspection reports, and (6) Engaging selected NCDOT inspectors while developing UAV-enabled inspection protocols and workflows. The developed integrated workflows and tools will enable UAVs to assist human inspectors in co-inspecting the bridges with the final aim of improving the quality of collected data, increasing the safety of human inspectors, and reducing the logistics, costs, and inspection time while complying with NBIS requirements and obtaining the data needed to support NCDOT's Structures Management Unit's operation and decisions. A preliminary assessment/quantification of the value of UAV-enabled inspection will provide insight into the time savings, cost savings, traffic impact reductions, and safety benefits that can potentially be obtained using the UAV-assisted workflows on selected bridges or types of bridges.