Climbing Robots with Automated Deployment of Sensors and NDE Devices for Steel Bridge Inspection (AS-2)

The PI was a research scientist/faculty at Rutgers University who successfully developed in 2014 a Robotic Assisted Bridge Inspection Tool (RABIT) for bridge deck inspections. Other bridge elements, such as girders and columns, or even underside of bridge decks are difficult to access and remain a challenge for efficient inspection. Like visual inspection, current practices for bridge maintenance are equally time consuming and expensive. Automation of simple maintenance actions such as bearing cleaning and concrete sealing with robots will lead to a leap forward to the next-generation strategy of bridge maintenance. Approach and Methodology: Prior experience with RABITTM will be leveraged to provide an automated solution for consistent and reliable steel bridge inspection with high efficiency and safety assurance. 3D computer simulations of various robotic designs will first be conducted to understand the function of each component and how all components are integrated to achieve the ultimate design goal. A preliminary climbing robotic system with four magnetic wheels can adhere to the surface of steel elements and a laser scanner to assist in autonomous localization and navigation of the robotic system. Prototypes will then be built and tested to verify their performance in laboratory and field conditions. Finally, a mechanism will be designed for automated deployment of sensors and NDE devices once a robot climbs to a pre-determined area. Overall Objectives: This project aims to develop and prototype automated climbing robotic platforms for steel bridge inspection and evaluation with support of visual and 3D LiDAR for navigation in GPS-denied environments, develop an NDE device or sensors deployment strategy with a mechanical limb, and evaluate the condition of steel bridges based on data collected from the device or sensors. Scope of Work in Year 1: (1) Design, build, and test a climbing robot with no more than 110-N payload of an inertial measurement unit, a mini-camera, a small LiDAR, NDE sensors (e.g., eddy current), a lightweight onboard computer, a Wi-Fi module, and two or three batteries for at least 60 minute operation in field condition, (2) Develop and integrate a small limb into the climbing robot to perform eddy current measurement on steel structures, and (3) Develop localization and navigation algorithms in GPS-denied environments for autonomous maneuver of the climbing robot. Scope of Work in Year 2: (1) Improve both software and hardware designs, and (2) Develop navigation algorithms for these climbing robots. Scope of Work in Year 3: (1) Continue to explore more efficient designs to ensure that the robots can climb on complex steel structures or transition smoothly from one surface to the other without falling off, and (2) Develop localization and path planning algorithms to allow the robot to safely and efficiently navigate on the bridge structure members to perform inspection.