University of Waterloo researchers say they have developed a system that will help make bridge inspections more accurate and accessible.

The combination of robots, cameras, and a remote sensing method will collect data for defect detection and analysis.

“There’s a lot of work that’s been going on with how to improve bridge inspection,” says research Nicholas Charron. “It’s such a hard task.”

The six cameras mounted on a robot are five mega pixels each and have a 360 degree view.

“As it drives along it scans and gets a full high quality dense 3D map of the environment,” says Charron. “Then with the images we can overlay that information onto this map we’ve created.”

Research Stephen Phillips critical bridge inspections will become cheaper and more reliable with the system.

“As we move into this technology, we can actually start to track the quantitative size of defects over time,” he says. “With that we can be a lot more efficient with how we do maintenance planning which, given the state of our infrastructure, is really needed.”

They say the technology would eliminate human errors by finding subsurface problems with infrared cameras.

“For different defects we look at different things,” says researcher Evan McLaughlin. “For example, a delamination we can detect in the thermal camera.”

Since analysis is done automatically, researchers can go from collecting data to having results within 15 minutes.

The same software could also be used for inspections with water vehicles, airborne drones, or buildings.