Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Plenty of people are excited about laying down new high-tech infrastructure to create smart cities. But can cutting-edge technology also be used to keep tabs on existing infrastructure, such as bridges? Intel certainly believes so — and it recently signed a deal with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to prove it. The collaboration will see Intel’s cutting-edge drone technology used to carry out inspections of bridges in the regions.

Since even minor issues such as lane closures on these bridges result in major, costly delays, the hope is that drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.

“What people may not know is that majority of U.S. bridges are more than 50 years old, and 10 percent of them are rated structurally deficient or obsolete,” Anil Nanduri, vice president and general manager of the Intel drone team, told Digital Trends. “The process of bridge inspections is a highly manual process and can be dangerous. What we did with the drone technology is supplement that process to save cost, time, and improve accuracy and reliable data.”

intel drones bridge inspections drone inspect 5

Intel’s Falcon 8+ drones are programmed to fly specific, repeatable flight paths necessary to capture all the required data. While it does this, each drone takes thousands of high-res images. These images can then be viewed as three-dimensional data. Over time, engineers and bridge inspectors can analyze changes, which can then be used for prediction purposes.

At present, Intel is using its technology to inspect the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge, connecting Ohio and Kentucky, and the Stone Arch Bridge in Minnesota. Currently, the drone usage is just part of the manual inspection process and requires drone operators on site to carry out the work. However, Intel believes this will change over time. Long term, the ambition is for drones to be able to carry out more of this work autonomously.

“For this to happen, drones will need to have a level of autonomy and intelligence and advanced flight safety technology built-in so that bridge inspection operations can be executed independently and without the need of a trained commercial drone pilot on site,” Nanduri said.

As impressive as Intel’s work is, it’s not the only example of drones or robotics being used to inspect infrastructure. A four-wheeled robot created by researchers at the University of Nevada is also designed for spotting bridge defects. Meanwhile, the so-called “LineRanger” robot is designed to inspect power lines for potential faults.

Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.