BIRDS: Bridge Inspection Robot Deployment Systems (AS-4)

A large number of elevated and complex bridges are difficult to access, require access trucks to complete inspections with traffic control, and pose a safety threat for both inspectors and drivers. It is thus desirable to develop robotic platforms, such as climbing robots and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to support sensing systems and nondestructive evaluation devices for safer, faster, cheaper and more reliable inspections of bridges without disrupting traffic flow. Currently, an inspection platform is often designed and built between girders in the superstructure of river-crossing bridges due to difficulty and cost associated with bridge inspection and maintenance. Such an inspection platform costs in the order of $1M and is quite familiar to bridge owners and inspectors. Approach and Methodology: Climbing robots for both concrete and steel bridges and UAVs are being developed to support bridge inspection with advanced evaluation technologies at the INSPIRE University Transportation Center. They are mostly applicable to large open areas with little or no obstacles. For I-shaped beams or girders, climbing along the cross section of these structural members is not a trial task. In particular, a climbing robot may not have a sufficient footprint to make a safe turn from the inner to outer face of a top or bottom flange. In this case, an unmanned vehicle is conceived to facilitate I-girder inspection and deployment of climbing robots on the underside of bridge deck between two adjacent girders. The unmanned vehicle, in combination with the climbing robots and UAVs, will allow the inspection and maintenance of over 90% of the bridges in the National Bridge Inventory and will be relatively easy to be adopted by inspectors due to their familiarity with the concept of inspection platforms. It must be able to fly in air and traverse along a girder with an effective vehicle-bridge engagement mechanism for smooth transition from the flying to traversing mode as designed with support of limited stress analysis, prototyped, tested, modified with expanded functionality, and re-tested in laboratory and field conditions. Overall Objectives: This project aims to develop and build a solar-powered mobile test facility based on a ground vehicle (e.g., recreational vehicle) to support field tests at bridge sites and provide wireless communication, such as satellite services, between no cell service bridge sites and the INSPIRE University Transportation Center. The mobile test facility is hereafter referred to as Bridge Inspection Robot Deployment Systems (BIRDS) that include climbing robots, UAVs, multimodal vehicles, sensors, nondestructive evaluation devices, data acquisition units, batteries, and miscellaneous tools to support field tests and wireless communication. The BIRDS serve as a field station for data collection and transmission to the base station at the INSPIRE University Transportation Center, and as a means of transportation for a crew of two or three inspectors. Scope of Work in Year 1: (1) Design and prototype a hybrid flying and traversing unmanned vehicle for inspection of girder bridges and for deployment of climbing robots, (2) Develop technical specifications of the vehicle for flying, traversing, and their transition performance, and (3) Minimize the weight of the vehicle through its computational modeling and analysis under various operation conditions.