PITA Fiscal Year 2013 Projects

Multi-modal Infrastructure Inspection Using Low-Flying Robots

Lead University: Carnegie Mellon University
PI: Sebastian Scherer, Robotics Institute
Co-PI: Daniel Huber, Robotics Institute, Burcu Akinci, Civil and Environmental Engineering
PA Industry: Sensible Machines Near Autonomy Earth, Inc Coign Asset Metrics & Technologies

Pennsylvania’s infrastructure systems must be regularly inspected to ensure safety and to monitor deterioration over time. Current inspection methods are limited to what can be measured or observed in a short time period. We propose that the combination of 3D imaging and high-resolution imagery enables the creation of a virtualized 3D representation of the infrastructure, which separates the measurement process from analysis. This separation enables inspectors to virtually revisit a site to recheck measurements or to track changes over time. A virtualized model can be created using a low-cost, highly maneuverable unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), allowing close-up, high-resolution inspection of the structure from any viewpoint. This project will evaluate the feasibility of creating a virtualized infrastructure representation using an autonomous oct-rotor helicopter platform. We will conduct a case study in which we gather 3D and image data of a deteriorating bridge in Pittsburgh. We will create a virtualized model of the bridge and compare the proposed approach with a model created using a terrestrial laser scanner. We demonstrate the effectiveness of the virtualized model by developing a visualization interface that allows an inspector to interactively view the 3D model along with overlaid imagery from the UAV’s onboard sensors. Our team is well-equipped to ensure the success of this program. The CMU team includes a leading expert in low-flying UAVs (Dr. Scherer, PI), a Professor with extensive domain expertise in infrastructure inspection (Dr. Akinci, Co-PI), and a leader in 3D modeling and interactive visualization (Dr. Huber, Co-PI). Our industry collaborators, local startup companies Sensible Machines and Near Earth Autonomy, Inc., are both leading the commercial development of low-flying robots and their applications. Close collaboration with these partners will provide direct pathways for commercialization of the project’s technological advances, ensuring that the research will have lasting impact on the Pennsylvania economy.