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The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is conducting a study to test using drones for bridge inspections, hoping the technology will help save money and provide an eye in the sky to see how bridges are holding up, KARE 11 reports.
Cameras on the drone allow inspectors to see the bridge in real time and detect temperature changes in the concrete.
“The biggest benefit is just being able to get out into places that we can’t get up close without a lot of equipment or a lot of access methods,” Barritt Lovelace, an engineer for Collins Engineers which is contracted to do the drone testing for MnDOT, told the news agency.
Typical bridge inspections can cost upwards of $675,000 and cause traffic problems, where Scott Theisen, an MnDOT engineer, told the news agency that a drone would cost only $40,000 and cause no traffic backups.
However, he stressed that drones would never replace a real inspector. “Our best detection is still our hands and eyes in the field,” Theisen said, adding that, at the very least, drones are an extra tool to see up close. “There’s always more we can do, and this is an effort to try and do a better job and try and improve our inspection technique.”
MnDOT will begin its final phase of drone testing in the Spring and could begin using them full-time in 2018 to inspect the more than 20,000 bridges in the state.