2017-092 – Remote Structural Tap Testing Using Aerial Robots

Background Railroads carry more than 40% of the nation’s freight tonnage. It is of great importance that the structural condition of the bridges be continuously assessed in order to ensure safe operation, which is a critical component for profitability of railroads. Today, a priority for the railroad system is to assess which structural components need to be replaced first, in order to more effectively allocate their limited maintenance budgets. Inspection using Non-Destructive Techniques (NDT) can quantitatively inform the prioritization of maintenance, repairs, and replacement of infrastructure concrete elements. Popular NDT methods include, but are not limited to: visual inspection and photographic recording, half-cell electrochemical potential, impulse type multipoint, scanning ground penetrating radar, chain drag, and impact echo. Nonetheless, these methods often require humans’ “calibrated” ear and can be vulnerable to errors due to human uncertainty. More recently, researchers have conducted a quantitative approach that analyzes hits and relates them to the surface they are pounding, optimizing an algorithm that also uses the video of those hits with the sounds. This work provided quantitative classification of a large, disperse number of tap testing experiments collected manually by humans. However, even though researchers propose practical methods to collect and analyze structural tap testing data, current inspection techniques are costly and qualitative, and require human collection of the data. Thus, there exists a present need for a more efficient system for structural testing that is cost-effective, safer, provides quantitative inspection of surfaces, and removes human error. Technology Description Researchers at the University of New Mexico in collaboration with the Engineering Institute at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a method for assessing the structural integrity of railroad bridges, and any other structures difficult to access, using remotely operated tap testing. The new tapping mechanism can remotely impact the surface, record the sounds of the impacts, and post-process the data to inform replacement prioritization. Structural tap testing data is collected with a tap testing mechanism built for deployment by a robot. With the use of aerial robots/UAVs, this technique allows for a more cost effective approach and provides quality structural tap test operation. This is beneficial in keeping people from having to access hazardous environments directly, reduces the labor-intensiveness of the process for inspecting, and collects quantitative data more efficiently. Andrew Roerick aroerick@innovations.unm.edu 505-277-0608

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