The contractor of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will be starting Phase 4 of the construction of Longfellow Bridge. It is the one that connects Boston to Cambridge, with its trademark ‘salt and pepper’ towers directing you to your destination. There are, however, rumours of the work being delayed.
Northeastern University’s Jerome Hajjar – and his colleagues – is keen to stop the delay problem once and for all. The team is busy creating aerial robots, that will help keep such schedules and the improvements that will be done will be nothing less than perfect. The system is called the Aerial Robotic Infrastructure Analyst – or ARIA. Tiny low-flying robots – called MAVs, i.e. micro air vehicles – will be used by this system. They have 3D imaging and state of the art planning, modelling as well as analysis, which will inspect any structures. Then the problem identification process will be started, tracking the progress and checking whether there is any need to follow-up or not.
“Consider bridge inspections,” says Hajjar. “Until now, they were predominantly done by people with cameras crawling on stretches of scaffolding that would be built for the purpose, taken down, and then reconstructed a little further along the bridge—an expensive process. The MAVs, which are programmed to fly and navigate autonomously, can safely and efficiently address places that are difficult or dangerous to reach as well as those that have to be inspected repeatedly.”
The MAVs are shaped like spiders and measure around 3-4 feet. Installed in them is a lightweight rotating laser scanner, along with three video cameras and a highly efficient GPS. If a problem is detected, MAV, these aerial robots, can overlay the characteristics of the 3D model. A simulation is then launched, which will show future occurrences if the structure is not corrected or fixed.
People are eager to know how MAVs are going to turn out. As bridges are one of the most important publicly accessible structures, Hajjar says, “Every bridge engineer I’ve talked to is excited about the project”.