Intel's UAS technology inspects Minnesota, Kentucky bridges

By Patrick C. Miller | December 18, 2018

As part of an effort to make bridge inspections safer and more efficient, Intel has collaborated with state transportation departments in Minnesota and Kentucky to demonstrate its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technology.

Drones were used to supplement manual inspections of the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky and the Stone Arch Bridge in Minnesota. The goal was to advance Intel’s hardware and software solutions to increase efficiency and improve the reliability of data collection in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional methods.

“With bridges worldwide experiencing undetected structural issues due to inefficient inspection and monitoring processes and unreliable data for rehabilitation, it is critical to address this real-world concern of transportation safety with impactful commercial drone applications,” said Anil Nanduri, vice president and manager of Intel’s drone team.

According to Intel, 10 percent of the more than 600,000 bridges are in the U.S. are currently rated structurally deficient or obsolete. Each bridge is structurally unique and requires regular inspections to achieve safety requirements for general use.

Traditional inspection methods can be dangerous, costly and time-consuming—without providing reliable data. These methods also obstruct daily traffic patterns with road closures, rely on manual labor that doesn’t always capture accurate data for proper rehabilitation assessment, can be prohibitively expensive to publicly funded sources, and require many work hours.

“Intel’s comprehensive drone solutions not only improve speed and accuracy through increasing automation of existing workflows, but also reduce safety risks and providing engineers and transportation bureaus with more reliable, actionable insights for future planning and safety assessments,” Nanduri said.

The Intel Falcon 8+ drone was used for the inspections because of its ability to fly in windy conditions and handle electromagnetic interference. The flight system provides safe, scalable access to hard-to-reach locations, reducing the need for risky hands-on methods, such as rope access. Automated flight paths were programed with Intel Mission Control.

Inspectors used the Falcon 8+ to capture high-quality aerial data without obstructing commuter’s traffic patterns and while helping to improve safety for workers and travelers. Intel Mission Control enables inspectors to create flight plans for complex 3D structures—such as bridges—and enable the ability to duplicate flight plans for future inspection missions.

The data collected by the drones were uploaded to the Intel Insight Platform, the company’s cloud-based digital asset management tool. The information can be compared to detect and monitor changes, allowing experts to extract images and notes about key areas of interest to share more broadly with inspection and transportation bureau teams.

Intel’s commercial drone solutions assisted officials in the full drone workflow, from flight planning and aerial data capture to the cloud-based digital data management, processing and analytics. In some cases, Intel said this resulted in a 40 percent cost savings over standard inspection processes.