Eyes in the Sky: Bridge Inspections with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Interest in the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in bridge inspection is rapidly growing within State transportation agencies, due to potential cost and time savings, as well as safety benefits. In particular, UAS may provide the capability to reduce use of bucket trucks, climbing, and lane closures in some inspections, by enabling high-resolution video and still imagery of bridge elements to be acquired from multiple viewing angles using onboard cameras. Additionally, imagery acquired with the UAS can be post-processed and further analyzed back in the office, facilitating detailed analysis and a possible shift of some tasks from the field to the office. However, in evaluating the use of UAS in bridge inspection, it is critical to understand both the capabilities and limitations of UAS, the aspects of an inspection that UAS can and cannot be used to satisfy, the regulatory aspects of UAS use, and the recommended operational procedures and workflows. Additionally, to assist ODOT and other transportation agencies in deciding whether to implement UAS-based inspection programs and procedures, costbenefit information is needed. This research project focused on addressing these needs. Because required inspections of communication towers pose similar safety and logistical concerns, this project also investigated the potential use of UAS in ODOT’s tower inspection program. Following a literature review and a detailed analysis of UAS components and advantageous characteristic for structural inspections, six bridge inspections and three tower inspections were conducted. The results were used to compile recommended safety and operational procedures and to assess, item-by-item, the required reporting elements of an FHWA inspection report that can or cannot be aided by use of UAS. Finally, the project findings were used in conjunction with data provided by ODOT to perform a cost-benefit analysis for use of UAS in bridge inspection. The analysis yielded an estimated average cost savings of approximately $10,000 per bridge inspection and showed a benefit-cost ratio of 9 if a UAS bridge inspection program is implemented.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: Appendices; Figures; Maps; Photos; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 179p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01664867
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: FHWA-OR-RD-18-11, SPR 787
  • Created Date: Feb 22 2018 10:38AM