Mich. DOT testing new camera system that inspects bridge decks accurately and safely

Updated Jul 16, 2019
Screen shot from WWMT video.Screen shot from WWMT video.

A new camera system for inspecting bridge decks that is being tested in southwest Michigan by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) provides greater inspection detail of concrete bridge decks while keeping workers safe from moving vehicles, WWMT News reports.

Developed by the Michigan Tech Research Institute, the 3-D optical bridge evaluation system, known as 3DOBS, collects high-quality imagery at high speeds.

“It is a high-quality camera that we attach to the trailer hitch of any vehicle, and we drive it across bridges,” says Rick Dobson, the research scientist at the institute leading the project, according to the news agency. “From that, we can create 2-D mosaic images, and from that we can extract condition information about the bridge deck.”

During initial tests of the system, researchers made numerous trips across 10 different MDOT bridges, including bridges in freeway, non-freeway, and high-traffic city areas. The 3DOBS results were compared to traditional inspection reports to develop a plan to best use the technology.

“Inspectors don’t have to be out on the deck to do traditional inspections,” said Dobson, adding that worker safety was the main advantage of the new technology, according to the news agency. Other advantages include inspecting the bridges without closing down lanes, accuracy, and being able to track issues over time. “You can track that 1/64th of an inch crack,” Dobson added. “You can track how fast it’s getting bigger and then you can predict into the future when you might have bigger issues and treat it before it becomes an issue.”

Some MDOT staff have already been trained to use the camera and software. MDOT spokesman Dan Weingarten told the news agency that using sound asset management tools is crucial for preserving the system. He said MDOT will continue to evaluate the 3DOBS technology this summer to see how best it fits into inspection workflows. Regional offices that wish to use the camera will receive training as needed.