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U.S NCDOT conducts first bridge inspection by drone

By Chris Stonor

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is one of a long line of U.S States now deploying drones to improve local inspections of infrastructure, reports This week, the Marc Basnight Bridge over the Oregon Inlet became the first bridge in the state inspected by a drone as part of the biennial process.

Marc Basnight Bridge

The unmanned craft deployed was a Skydio 2, equipped with detect-and-avoid technology, that allows it to operate within a foot of the bridge structure without risk of damage. Inspection crews monitored live high-definition video feeds from the drone as it was flown around the bridge’s 10 largest columns, looking for any potential defects that might need further action.

After the successful trial, NCDOT has said it will now regularly deploy drones to conduct such bridge inspections. The process is faster, safer, saves money and reduces the need for lane closures. Although, drones will not replace the traditional visual inspection… yet. Instead, the craft are to be used to supplement traditional inspections by covering difficult to reach areas of the bridge.

A waiver granted to NCDOT in 2020 by the FAA allows the transportation department to operate drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) when inspecting bridges. This lets the operator fly the craft around pillars, between girders, and even inside columns.

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