Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Drones in Civil Enginnering

    Posted 09-24-2020 10:34 AM
    I like to keep on new technologies and innovations in the civil engineering field, and one relatively new technology I have been interested in has been the use of drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Here in North Carolina, we have used drones for several different applications like performing bridge inspections, assessing roads and bridges after hurricanes, and even transporting medical supplies between hospitals. I have also seen really impressive construction time lapse videos using drones.

    I think the use of drones will continue to increase in upcoming years in our industry, and that there are more applications in civil engineering where drones can be used. I have seen drones that can be equipped with an amazing amount of cameras and sensors that can take temperature measurements, weather measurements, scan entire structures, and of course take photos and videos. I think one of the biggest benefits of drone use can be safety for civil engineers. Drones can limit the times we need to send a physical engineer to hazardous locations.

    I would like to know from others here if they have used drones before, and if so, in what context? I bet there are some really neat drone projects I am not even aware of.

    I know as a bridge engineer, I am really excited to see how drones can help with bridge inspections. I think drones could be a great "screening tool" for bridge inspectors, where the drone can look at hard to reach areas to see if there are areas that warrant bridge inspectors to access. This can save a lot of time and have less impact to the traveling public if bridge inspectors don't need to use lane closures to inspect certain parts of a bridge. I also like the idea of drones having predetermined flight paths for each bridge, so that during each inspection the drone is looking at the same parts of the bridge consistently, so photos and measurements taken by the drone can be easily compared to the previous inspections photos and measurements. 

    If anyone has had any experience with using drones for bridge inspections, I would love to hear about it.

    Doug Cantrell P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Durham NC

  • 2.  RE: Drones in Civil Enginnering

    Posted 09-25-2020 10:43 AM
    Hi Doug,

    Thanks for starting this interesting thread! I've heard a lot about engineers using drones for large-scale surveying. I'm not sure whether they're at the place where they can replace total stations in certain applications or not. The student chapter of Engineers Without Borders at the University of Minnesota has been using drones to conduct photogrammetry surveys in Guatemala: https://ewb-umn.org/chirijuyu-guatemala/
    So far, the 3D models they have derived from the survey point clouds have been extremely useful for understanding the general topography and elevations for designing gravity-fed pipelines. They are also extremely valuable for photo documentation of what the site looks like.
    I'm looking forward to hearing what experiences others have had!


    Vinicius Taguchi S.M.ASCE
    PhD Candidate
    Minneapolis MN

  • 3.  RE: Drones in Civil Enginnering

    Posted 09-28-2020 07:57 AM
    Hi Doug,
    I am Abhijeet Hodbe from Mumbai (India).
    I have just completed my Bachelors in Civil and already started to collect Information on Drones and Lidars.
    In India, Drones are being used for difficult to reach locations but they have not yet been used by the majority.
    Its steadily catching up with the Industry.
    I was once talking with a surveyor and he was happy to see Drone come into existence as his friend was badly injured while assessing a difficult location and small error lead to great trouble. Finally, I am happy to say that Knowledge about Drones is being taught to students from College itself.

    Thanks for your time.

    Abhijeet Hodbe S.M.ASCE
    Navi Mumbai MH

  • 4.  RE: Drones in Civil Enginnering

    Posted 10-07-2020 08:35 AM

    This is a topic I love to talk about. I actually did my master's thesis on this very topic about 4 years ago now. It was an extremely new technology at the time but it has been fun to see it mature in our industry. I have a few journal papers along with my thesis if you would like to learn more. You can find more about the papers published and me over here.

    I agree with you that drones are a great tool for some bridges that helps us get data faster and safer. We performed an inspection of a glued-laminated timber bridge in South Dakota (Keystone Wye Bridge). In short, we found most of the same damage the SDDOT had previously seen and there were no traffic interruptions. We conducted the inspection within two days and only used the drone (no additional sensors). I was also able to create 3D virtual models of the bridge to analyze specific areas of interest as well as to conduct crack measurements. 

    There is definitively a lot of improvement for this technology to be used more often, but that future is not very far.

    Luis Duque EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO

  • 5.  RE: Drones in Civil Enginnering

    Posted 10-11-2020 09:00 PM
    Hi Doug. If you don't mind a shameless plug, relatively recently I wrote and published a book on this exact topic: Success with Drones in Civil Engineering. You'll find it full of successful case studies, examples, and testimonials from civil engineers and other professionals. You are fortunate to be in North Carolina where your DOT is a world leader in using drones and building this capacity across the entire state. You should find at least one bridge inspection example in the book. If you want more after reading the book I can provide more since then. I hope you and the others here benefit a lot from the book. Helping you all move forward safely, profitably, and legally with drones is why I wrote it! Cheers, Brett

    Brett Hoffstadt EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Folsom CA