Drones could help check if buildings and bridges are safe

Fri, 2014-08-01 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

After a disaster, inspectors may have to put their lives at risk to get a close look at damage to buildings and critical infrastructure to keep the public safe. But thanks to German researchers who have developed an inspection drone, soon they may not have to.

The technology may also help engineers better assess structures even before disaster strikes by allowing them to cover more ground in more detail in less time.

Providing a rich detail

The drone is an octocopter, a remote-controlled helicopter that has eight rotors. Special sensors help it detect and adjust for wind and keep it safely away from the structure it’s inspecting.

But the real power is in its on-board imaging systems. A high-resolution digital camera can capture exquisitely detailed images. Images can even be combined to give building engineers a three-dimensional view.

That’s a huge boost for inspectors who have largely been limited to what they can see with their own eyes. In many cases, performing detailed inspections has been hugely laborious and required extensive set-up.

A thermal imaging camera could also be added to measure the effectiveness of the building’s insulation.

More information in less time

Because of the ease at which the drone can reach tough spots, it can complete a detailed survey of an area in two or three hours that would take a human two or three days to personally inspect.

The developers are also working on the ability for the drone to fly completely on autopilot. The next phase of the project is to allow the drone to fly on pre-programmed tracks.

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