Apart from the opera house, the Harbor Bridge is undoubtedly the most iconic structure in the Australian city, Sydney. Inaugurated in 1932, the bridge consists of no fewer than 4,100 elements and 485,000 square meters of steel and paint that must be inspected regularly. From now on, this will be done with the help of an autonomous drone.
Inspect regularly by autonomous drone
The Sydney Harbor Bridge is made of steel and contains six million rivets. The arch bridge is no less than 1149 meters long, and the top of the arch is 134 meters above the water surface. The bridge deck has room for eight lanes, two train tracks, a bicycle path, and a footpath. The bridge was opened in 1932 and is 90 years old. In part because of its advanced age, the bridge must be closely inspected regularly.
The maintenance of the bridge is the responsibility of Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW). The bridge is still regularly inspected by human inspectors: a time-consuming and expensive job, which is also not without danger. For that reason, TfNSW looked into the possibility of inspecting the bridge using an autonomous drone.
TfNSW really only has two main requirements for drone inspections:
- It must be a safe method, with high-quality data as a result;
- The drones must also be able to be operated by relatively inexperienced users.
Until now, drones kept falling because they usually had to be flown manually, increasing the risk of crashes. In addition, the stress and workload on the pilot affected the quality of the data collection, resulting in low-quality reports and 3D models.
But the developments do not stand still. Together with service provider Sphere Drones, Transport for New South Wales concluded that the inspections can easily be performed by an autonomous flying drone, namely the Skydio 2+ Enterprise. This autonomous drone is equipped with multiple cameras that register the immediate environment during flying in 3D. In this way, the drone can map out a safe route itself and avoid obstacles.
Skydio's powerful flight automation and obstacle detection algorithms provide the ability to get up close and into the bridge structure to shoot while dynamically avoiding trusses and other structural elements. Combined with Skydio 3D Scan, the data capture process is fully automated, requiring only a pilot to set up the scan.
After extensive testing, the system will enable Transport for New South Wales to provide stakeholders with high-quality reports in both traditional formats and 3D models. Other bridge inspections in New South Wales can now also be carried out quickly and automatically. The state has more than 6,000 bridges that must be inspected regularly.
Paris Cockinos, CEO of Sphere Drones: “My team has been working with TfNSW since 2018 to unlock use cases that improve security, increase efficiency and improve accessibility. The fact that the 485,000 square meters of steel and paint and 4,100 unique elements of the Sydney Harbor Bridge can't be inspected before and now can be inspected in a scalable way is a huge gain.”
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