Drones Prove an Agile, Affordable Mechanism to Inspect Aging Civil Infrastructure


EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (May 24, 2019) – How do you inspect a bridge for signs of hazardous weakening or deterioration? It’s not easy, but one method is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). 

In October 2019, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University associate professor Dr. Ali Karimoddini will assist the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) on a project titled “Developing a Safe and Cost-effective Flight Control Methodology for a UAV-enabled Bridge Inspection.” Dr. Abdollah Homaifar, also from N.C. A&T, and Dr. Navid Goudarzi from UNC Charlotte will assist him on the project.

“We are one of few universities in the nation with these types of facilities,” said Karimoddini. “Our facilities have enabled us to attract government agencies like NCDOT to investigate the development of drone technologies and their applications.” 

A national leader in autonomy capabilities and infrastructure for control of drones, N.C A&T has two UAV laboratories on campus, run by Karimoddini and his colleagues. Along with industry and government agencies, the laboratories have attracted many autonomy students. 

“Our students have easy access to hands-on labs showing our cutting-edge technology, and they see career opportunities in this field when customers like the NCDOT express interest in using our technology.”

Previously, bridge inspections required entities like NCDOT to take extensive measures – closing traffic lanes, lowering inspectors on ropes, raising them on scaffolds or using specialized trucks or cranes. Additionally, the process of inspecting bridges has always been costly and dangerous. 

UAVs are nimble enough to scan bridge spans and nose into hard-to-reach and hard-to-see crevices that humans find difficult to navigate. As they hover close to aging trusses, piers, and other structures, drones take high-resolution images and/or video enabling inspectors to collect and analyze data from the ground. Special software assembles the information into 3-D models, which engineers can examine on computers.