Drones used to inspect bridges

Two recent developments have highlighted the increasing use of technology in the construction business – including drones which can land on water.

The first move came last week when Japan-based SoftBank – best known for its £24bn acquisition of Cambridge-based chip design firm ARM last summer – invested £500m in Cambridge firm Improbable.

Improbable’s cloud-based SpatialIOS software is currently largely deployed in creating games, but it is expected to be developed for use in urban planning and developing an autonomous car network in the near future, in the same way as HoloLens has rejigged its augmented reality software for use by architects and on-site inspectors – more details here.

Meanwhile, in the first trial of its kind, drones are being used to to inspect bridges, enabling workers to record footage on the ground to inspect the condition of the bridge.

The trials are being carried out in by West Sussex County Council in collaboration with Balfour Beatty Living Places, with significant savings already being made through the use of the technology – inspections at two bridges in Shoreham-By-Sea have saved around £8,000 in comparison to more traditional methods.

Bridges are required to undergo inspections every two years to make sure they are safe for public use.

The use of drones dramatically reduces potential health and safety risks and costs, in addition removing the need for traffic management measures. A second camera is also used to film the drone in action to ensure the drone is being operated safely with another worker reviewing the safety parameters around the drone in real-time.

Protective floats are fitted onto the drones to allow them to land safely on water if necessary and onboard GPS systems prevent encroachment into no fly zones such a airport space without prior consent.

Steve Phillips, contract director for Balfour Beatty Living Places, said: “Using drones in our highways inspection work allows us to safely assess the work required while dramatically reducing any potential hazards faced by our workforce who would traditionally carry out work such as bridge inspections at height. It’s a great example of how modern technology can be successfully used by industry.”

West Sussex County Council’s infrastructure manager, Kieran Dodds, said: “The use of drones enables us to obtain the necessary information to determine our highway structures are safe for use, while reducing the risk to our inspectors who conventionally would have to use access equipment when working at height.”

Using more traditional methods to carry out the inspections means traffic management needs to be put in place to allow inspectors to safely carry out works at height and over water, creating disruption for traffic.

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