BRIDGE INSPECTION: FHWA deploys robot to collect bridge information

Robot combines technologies that give inspectors more accurate images of the bridge deck's health

May 16, 2013

An innovative new robot is being deployed by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration to help inspect the safety and structural integrity of concrete bridge decks. The robotic tool—automated and created in partnership with Rutgers University—combines a number of advanced, customized imaging technologies that give inspectors more accurate information, in real-time, on the bridge deck's overall health.

"By using innovative technology, we can better identify needed bridge repairs," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “which is all part of the president's vision for improved transportation infrastructure."

In a single sweep, the robot combines numerous scans requiring different sets of tools. The robot's imaging technologies, similar to x-ray technologies, allow inspectors to see beyond what can be seen by the human eye without having to penetrate or damage the deck. The robot allows inspectors to see the interior of the bridge deck and obtain more detailed information on the condition of the concrete and reinforcing steel.

"This technology is helping bridge owners make smarter investment decisions," said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. "It's about providing real-world solutions through innovation."

In the first deployment wave, FHWA is using the tool on 24 bridges in six Mid-Atlantic states—Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—and in Washington, D.C. Over the next five years, the goal is to use the robot on up to 1,000 bridges nationwide.

The tool is a product of the Long-Term Bridge Performance (LTBP) Program, a flagship FHWA research initiative to collect and analyze data on a representative sample of bridges around the country to understand how they react under certain conditions. FHWA will use the data to develop a better understanding of concrete bridge deck deterioration, including the impacts of corrosion, the environment, traffic patterns and weight.

FHWA has partnered with the Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation to conduct this research.

The robot continues to complement conventional visual inspections in analyzing bridge decks, which typically deteriorate faster than other bridge components because of traffic loads and environmental exposure.