Repairing Canada’s Aging Bridges

Capstone Project: Automated Bridge Image Analysis Using Drone Quadcopter Technology
Client: Gamal Mustapha, VP Program Management, SMT Research Ltd.
Student Team: Shawn Yuan, Micah Leuba, Michael Li, Gregory Lee, Nico Simon
Professor: Paul Lusina

Maintaining public infrastructure is essential and unfortunately, costly. Canada invests billions of dollars a year to repair, upgrade and expand its highways, water treatment plants and bridges. A Statistics Canada study conducted in 2007 found that the average age of public infrastructure is falling in Canada, suggesting we are generally keeping things in good repair. The study also found that bridges run contrary to this trend. On average bridges last for 43.3 years. Investments in Canadian bridges are below what is needed to “hold their collective age constant”. In BC, 53% of bridges have passed their useful lifespan. The situation is much worse in Nova Scotia (66% ) and Quebec (72% ). Improving our process of bridge repair will save money and potentially save lives.

This capstone uses a drone quadcopter equipped for automated aerial photography to help detect structural defects, such as fractures.  The quadcopter navigates alongside a bridge to capture images of the structure. The images are uploaded through the web-based user interface for processing. Through this software, the images can be stitched together, forming a panorama image of the structure that provides a ‘big picture’ view of the bridge. The images can also be processed using an algorithm developed in Matlab to detect and highlight cracks on the structure. A structural engineer will be alerted if any defects are found, and the problematic images can be looked at through the user interface. The structural engineer can then determine an appropriate course of action. Below is a panorama created by the software.

The client for this project, Gamal Mustapha, will be putting these quadcopters to work soon. “Results from the project proved its feasibility and market demand, SMT plans to pursue immediate development to further improve and commercialize the system. Autonomous structural analysis will play a major role in addressing our aging infrastructure by decreasing inspection costs allowing more frequent and accurate inspections that will ultimately prolong bridge lifespans, increase safety and improve the overall quality on our highways and bridges.”

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