Connecticut Bridge Gets Inspection via Drone

The unmanned aerial vehicle will be equipped with a high-definition camera capable of spotting unsafe conditions on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge between New London and Groton, Conn.

by Kimberly Drelich, The Day, New London, Conn. / December 7, 2015
Bridge inspections by hand, as pictured above, may be a thing of the past if drone technology proves capable. Wikicommons

(TNS) -- The state Department of Transportation will test a drone — an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV — to perform certain visual inspections underneath the northbound side of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge between New London and Groton.

The test is the first step as the DOT determines the role the UAV could play, said DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick.

Nursick said one potential is that the vehicle could take photos of bridge structures to show how much rust develops each month.

A team of engineers would then inspect the photos, just as is currently done when an individual manually photographs the rust.

He also said it's possible to imagine future scenarios in which the vehicle uses infrared technology to detect cracks in the bridge, or high-definition video to spot defects.

The small drone that will be used for the test — equipped with a camera, GPS system and proximity sensors — can snap high-definition photos and record video.

"It's a very impressive technology in every sense, and that technology is only improving, so we're positive about the outcome and the potential for this technology in the future," said Nursick.

Nursick said traditional bridge inspections require snooper trucks or climbers and ropes and often entail lane closures.

The DOT wants to gauge if the UAV could be dispatched on short notice to take a quick look at a component of the bridge or to double check an issue, all without affecting traffic on the bridge.

And the Gold Star Bridge, more than a mile long in each direction and time-consuming to inspect, may be the perfect place to test out the UAV’s effectiveness, according to Nursick.

The test is slated for Dec. 15, but is contingent on the weather, said Nursick. After the test, the DOT will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the system.

During the test, the UAV will ascend near the underside of the bridge and provide real-time footage back to its operator, he said.

The operator will maintain the line of sight with the UAV, and the UAV will remain underneath the bridge and not visible to drivers.

The DOT will have inspectors on the bridge during the trial period and has filed a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration and informed federal, state and local authorities about the plan.

Nursick stressed that if the DOT moves forward with the UAV technology in the future, it would only be used in certain scenarios and would not replace traditional bridge inspections, required every two years, in which men and women go up onto the structures to examine them.

"We're just assessing the potential of this technology to be something in our toolbox," said Nursick.

“There’s really nothing to be lost by doing this type of test and everything to be gained,” he added.

©2015 The Day (New London, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.