A Dam Fine Use of a Drone

UABDamDroneA team of researchers from Alabama is developing a dam fine application for drones.

University of Alabama-Birmingham doctoral candidate Ali Darwish is leading a project to create customized UAVs that can be used for infrastructure inspection – specifically for dams.

“Alabama has 2,100 dams, and only 2 percent are regularly inspected,” Darwish said in a UAB press release. “Alabama is also the only state without a dam inspection program — there just isn’t enough manpower to do it,” he added.

One of the designs the team is developing is a waterproof quadcopter. It’s wrapped with blocks of insulation foam that keep the drone steady and safe near waters at hydroelectric plants and dams.

The prototype will pave the way for a more sophisticated model that Darwish and a team of researchers from UAB, Auburn University and George Washington University are building for the Infrastructure Vision 2050 Challenge. Sponsored by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the challenge offers a $150,000 prize to innovators whose project best addresses the nation’s growing infrastructure collapse.

Darwish and team will develop a system of “embedded sensor, thermal and radiometric camera on-board drones, 360 degree HD cameras, and water robots,” according to the team’s proposal. “[Drones] are all part of the main technologies that will be used for acquiring the data. These data will consist of images, and signals that will be used for reconstructing the virtual and augmented realities.”

According to the team’s proposal, the drones will feature:

  • “Strain sensors that are used for monitoring stress on girders;
  • Tilt sensors that are used for monitoring bearings tilt, pier movements and settling, and displacement sensors for monitoring expansion in the infrastructures;
  • Thermal and radiometric cameras used for capturing the heat signature and other abnormalities in the structure, including cracks, leaks, and deterioration;
  • Waterproof drones used for carrying sensors and taking thermal/radio- -metric images;
  • 360 degree HD cameras used for creating the images required for reconstructing a virtual reality structure;
  • Underwater working robots equipped with cameras and sensors for inspecting the submerged parts of the structure.”

In July, the team’s proposal won the competition’s Dream Phase and the researchers were awarded $9,000.

According to AL.com columnist Shelly Haskins, the idea to deploy drones to protect dams came about after Darwish saw a late-night TV show in which comedians Jon Stewart and John Oliver humorously noted that Alabama lacked a program to inspect its dams.

“It’s a great idea, and it’s ironically delicious that a team of brilliant minds in Alabama came up with it after seeing their state lampooned again on national television,” Haskins writes.

Dam straight.

The use of silly dam puns does not necessarily reflect the level of humor representative of the entire DroneLife staff. 


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