Drones using AI bring productivity gains for engineering and construction

Eric Bugeja cut 80 per cent off the cost of inspecting a bridge for Queensland Rail using a drone.

Using the drone with its fixed camera, the GHD engineer was able to take 21,000 images of the ageing steel structure spanning a creek, permitting the single-span bridge to remain open, rather than having to close it for the five or six days needed for a full inspection by humans.

“It’s a single-line rail bridge,” Bugeja says. “Traditionally you’d have to shut down the line for five or six days to do a condition assessment. It was in a remote area of northeast Queensland, going over crocodile-infested waters, so the safety aspects of getting a crew to climb all over that structure to physically inspect it – there were a lot of safety issues.”

Instead, during the inspection – just one of 13 on the QR North Coast Line – no engineers were harmed and the crocs weren’t disturbed.

“The line was able to stay open; we were probably able to capture more high-definition imagery; and we were able to present that in a way that could be accessed through a desktop or through a virtual reality headset.”

The use of drones is growing from being remote control planes for a new generation of backyard pilots into vehicles for filming Hollywood blockbusters, to a productivity tool for engineering and construction. It’s not just the drone; rather it’s the connection between drones and other technologies that is permitting more to be done faster than ever before. The companies best able to make the use of the data and turn it into a productivity gain are the ones most likely to survive a wave of disruption in the still-traditional games of construction and technology.Drones using AI bring productivity gains for engineering and construction

“What it’s really about is getting access to places that we couldn’t get access to before, taking huge amounts of data and presenting it in a simple way,” Bugeja says. “And that’s really the more difficult part.”

A drone with mounted camera can do more than just fly over and around a bridge – or other structure – in a predetermined flight path. It can cut out much of the leg-work.

“When you combine that with artificial intelligence, you can teach the software what to look for,” Bugeja says. “So when we’re doing inspections, you can say to the software, ‘This is what a crack looks like’, or ‘This is what corrosion looks like’. The software starts to learn what we are looking for.”

The technology is even more valuable when images the drone-mounted camera takes and the notes the consultant makes – typically resulting in a report stretching for hundreds of pages – are attached to a 3D model of the bridge, and allow engineers and their clients to study them from a desktop, or even in the field on a tablet.

“So rather than handing over a 540-page report and condition assessment, the client can just open up the model, they’ll see a highlighted part of the model where there’s an issue, they’ll see a high-definition image of that state, and the comments associated with it,” Bugeja says.

While drones and cameras can help in the construction of new buildings by photographing ground surfaces and measuring topography ahead of detailed design, they can arguably be more valuable in long-term asset maintenance. It’s not just bridges, but inspecting the inside of exhaust stacks at powerplants.

Drones have their limits. No drone will pass through a bridge underside or structure blocked with vegetation; a drone may not be able to photograph certain areas due to the angle or height.

But at least, when it comes to a croc-filled river in northern Queensland, it minimises the time a real person has to spend climbing over the structure.

“There are certain passes you can’t capture with the drone that you might have to do a manual inspection, but the drone gives a first pass and if you do need to send people on there, it can be really targeted and focused,” Bugeja says. “You can get in there quickly, and out quickly.”

This article was originally published at Read more: http://www.afr.com/ written by Michael Bleby









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