Using Drones to Better Monitor Railway Bridges: An Interview with Dr. Rishi Gupta

Infrastructure has traditionally been monitored visually by an inspector.  What is the advantage of using drones for structural health monitoring?

Most monitoring techniques cause some interference or loss of use of the structures being monitored. Moreover, most monitoring techniques are also very demanding in terms of man power. These concerns can be alleviated by using drones where the performance of the structures can be monitored by non-contact methods.

There are several examples proving that relying solely on inspection is not prudent as structures have failed even though they have been frequently monitored. Drone technology may or may not replace manual inspections, but can certainly prove to be complementary.

How do these drones compare to using sensors in infrastructure monitoring?

Mounted sensors can be a very effective technique for structural health monitoring, however, mounted sensors provide information usually at the location of the sensors. Depending on the non-destructive evaluation technique being used in conjunction with drones, the performance of the structures can be monitored at locations of sensors and in between.

How are the drones in this project different from drones that are commercially available?

There are various types of drones including fixed wing type, flapping wing type and many others. The drones or UAVs being custom developed for this project will have multi rotors. The goal of this project is to develop a UAV with higher pay loads than commercially available at the moment.  In addition, the UAV will have on board data processing capability.  This reduces the time required to process data (typically at base station).

Can you elaborate on the collaboration between Canada and India on this project?

The UAV for this project is being custom designed and assembled by Dr. Balasubramanian (my Co-PI of this project) located at Veltech University at Chennai. This is why the first test flight was planned in Chennai. Also, the demonstration of the sensor and UAV mountable NDT technology developed at University of Victoria at the Facility for Innovative Materials and Infrastructure Monitoring (FIMIM) will be applied on two demonstration projects on Southern Railway bridges in India.  The kick-off meetings have taken place recently and all the partners and stakeholders are being engaged on this project.

With a successful test flight under your belt now, what’s next?  How can this type of monitoring be used in Canada?

During the first phase of this project the technology developed at University of Victoria will be mounted on the UAV developed at Veltech University and will be first tested on a “test bridge” located at University of Victoria. Plans include implementing the technology on bridges in BC managed either by Translink, BC Transit or BCMOTI.