Dr. Kevin Franke and collaborators from the Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science Departments have teamed up to research unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) applications to infrastructure monitoring. Through the NSF-sponsored Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS), these researchers are using UAVs (commonly called "drones") to build high-resolution 3D computer models of various infrastructure objects. To date, models have been built of dams, landslides, ports and bridges impacted by soil liquefaction, and industrial structures. Current research efforts are focusing on improving aerial structure from motion computer vision methods to target a model accuracy of less than 1 cm. Their research has so far resulted in median model accuracies of about 3 cm and model resolutions of just over 1 cm.
Using UAVs to build 3D models of a site has significant advantages over traditional methods such as performing a LiDAR scan. Data collection is typically performed in less than an hour, and line of site issues are reduced or eliminated because the data is being collected from above. Furthermore, the cost to purchase, operate, and maintain the UAV equipment is typically a small fraction of the costs associated with LiDAR.
This technology has the potential to revolutionize the manner in which surface topographic data is collected from the field. Several industrial partners associated with the C-UAS have caught this vision and have provided funding for this research over the last two years. If your company would like to learn more about this research and the benefits of supporting it, please contact Dr. Franke.