Autonomous bridge-inspecting robot could save lives by using smart sensors and machine learning algorithms to detect dangerous defects. Researchers at the University of Nevada have developed an autonomous robot, designed to inspect bridges and detect any structural damage before it can cause potential injury. The four-wheeled robot bridge inspector, called Seekur, uses a variety of tools to carry out its important task. These include ground-penetrating radar for looking beneath the surface of a bridge for underlying instabilities, sensors designed to search for possible corrosion of steel or cement, and a camera which analyzes cracks in the bridge's surface. A machine learning algorithm then analyzes all of this information and uses it to generate a color-coded map, which is passed on to (human) engineers to make them aware of weak spots.
There are nearly 56,000 defective bridges currently being used in the US and unsuspecting vehicles travel across them about 185 million time a day – but these structures could go at any moment. However, a team of researchers have designed a'robot bridge inspector' that is said to cut down on the costs for inspections and is able to thoroughly check for corrosion and other faults in the structure with 96 percent accuracy. Called Seekur Jr, the autonomous machine is equipped with a camera for visual crack detection, ground penetrating radar for concrete rebar assessment and unique sensors for concrete corrosion. Researchers have designed a'robot bridge inspector' that is said to cut down on the costs for inspections and is able to thoroughly check for corrosion and other faults in the structure - with 96 percent accuracy The University of Nevada designed a'robot bridge inspector' to check bridges for corrosion and other faults. Seekur has a camera for visual crack detection, ground penetrating radar for concrete rebar assessment and unique sensors for concrete corrosion.
When the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi river in Minnesota collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people, it was because of defects in steel plates that safety inspectors had missed. A new robot helper could help avoid such tragedies by making bridge checks cheaper and more accurate. Surveying a bridge used to involve drilling into the road to check the concrete and steel structures underneath. Although radar has simplified the work since the 1980s, sending out teams of people to check bridges is still expensive and can require extended road closures. The upshot is that many bridges are overdue a health check – thousands in the US alone, for instance.
"What was really interesting to me was that they don't know the cause of the fire," says Jay Lynch, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan. Lynch has seen fires close bridges before. "Usually it's associated with a truck that's had an accident under or near a bridge, or a collision of a truck with a bridge leading to a closure," Lynch says. In this case, the fire seems to have started somewhere below, near construction materials stored beneath the overpass. But beyond that, little is known.