Missouri S&T Robots May Help State Inspect Bridges | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri S&T Robots May Help State Inspect Bridges

Mar 9, 2019

Missouri University of Science and Technology could be part of the solution to the state’s bridge-maintenance problem.

The state is behind on its maintenance and is working with Missouri S&T on robots to make it easier to inspect and repair bridges.

The research program includes drones that can inspect the bridges from the air, and robots that cling to the side of bridges and crawl along the surfaces.

Mark Bookout, IT director for the research project, said the goal is to make it easier and safer for engineers to get information about the status of bridges.

“It’s got to be very easy to use, so the engineers can do their jobs and not worry about flying a drone,” Bookout said. “More like a toaster for bridge inspection, just press a button and it goes.”

While the operation is designed to be easy, the data collected will be detailed.

Genda Chen, a civil engineering professor at Missouri S&T, said in addition to the robots, the research is developing new sensors. Chen said both the drones and the crawling robots will be able to compile more data than an engineer could do on their own.

“The sensor can tell strain, temperature and also how much corrosion loss there has been in the cross section at the same time as collecting data on the exterior of the bridge structure.”

The new technology will also be able to make small repairs on some bridges. The drone can carry a repair arm “that can seal a crack and keep moisture from getting to the rebar, for example,” Chen said.

The university is testing various models with the Missouri Department of Transportation that could be in regular use in the next two years. The project includes training for MoDOT staff to use the new technology.

Bridge repair is a priority of Gov. Mike Parson. He used his State of the State address to propose spending $350 million to repair 250 bridges. The Legislature is considering the program.

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