This week the FAA is running a National Drone Safety Awareness campaign.
As well as partnering with Know Before You Fly and the UAS Safety Team to reaffirm the rules of the skies, the aviation administration is looking for stories of how drones are being safely used in business contexts.
Today we’ve got a case study from Intel highlighting exactly that. In fact, Intel’s hardware and software are being used to improve safety during bridge inspections.
Using drones to inspect the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge
Infrastructure inspections can be time-consuming, dangerous and costly. When the infrastructure in question is an 8-lane bridge carrying the interstate across the Ohio River, perillous working conditions and practical challenges are a given.
In a recently published case study, Intel outline how they, in partnership with engineers at Michel Baker International, used drones during a recent inspection of the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge.
Exceptional access and efficiency
Last year, Alicia McConnell, Professional Engineer and UAS Operations Lead at Michael Baker International, led a team that conducted an inspection of the bridge. The team relied upon both traditional methods and Intel’s Falcon 8+ drone.
The hardware was used alongside Intel’s Mission Control flight planning software, in a combination that saved time, money and enabled a safer and more accurate inspection process.
“The value that all the Intel products – flight planning, the actual drone system, and Intel Insight Platform – is far exceeding anything that we have used previously,” says McConnell. “It’s a value that we can’t really replace or put a value on.”
Typically, bridge inspections are carried out with teams of brave engineers using rope access and confined space access techniques. Data is often captured by hand through drawings, photos and sketches. The process can be unreliable, difficult to repeat in order to effectively monitor progress, and inefficient to communicate.
There are also the practical challenges that come with inspecting vital infrastructure that’s in use every day.
“We have a lot of restrictions, especially with traffic – we are not allowed to close lanes very often,” says Jennifer Wells, State Bridge Inspector at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
“We noticed that inspectors weren’t getting up close to elements that they needed to see in order to get accurate data. Because of that, when it came time to rehabilitate a bridge, the inspection data wasn’t accurate. The cost of the project would go up because fixes had to be incorporated that weren’t anticipated.”
Erin Van Zee at the National Bridge Inspection Standards Bureau for the state of Kentucky, said “In the past with our pencil sketch records of the inspection, we would upload them to our database.”
Now Intel’s drone takes care of the data gathering, while the tech giant’s mission planning application and cloud software ensure inspections are repeatable and insights come to the surface quickly.
“Without this technology, it would be me looking at a piece of paper with a pencil sketch”, Van Zee
continued. “Now I can look on the cloud and I can see a 3D model and get the information that we need in a shorter amount of time, more efficiently. It’s really cool.”
“Safety is #1,” says Wells. “We save time as well. And we are realizing cost savings of up to 40%. A company like Intel is proven and has a long track record of good customer service and products. That is more of a sure thing for us. Having problems with software is the last thing we need!”
Intel wants to power the workflow of the future
In the case study, Anil Nanduri, Vice President, GM Drone Group at Intel, expands on the company’s future vision and outlines how Intel will serve ‘data-centric’ businesses with drones and smart software.
“Intel is transforming its focus into data-centric businesses,” he says. “Today data is coming from our phones and other consumer devices. As we move forward, it will come from machines like autonomous robots, cars, even drones. They can produce vast amounts of data.
“Using drone technology for inspections, we can create a digital twin of the real world that we can monitor over time. People can share the data, collaborate, use AI and machine learning to automate and look for changes. This will make the workflow of the future very different from what it looks like today.”