Robots to Maintain Bridges

It is extremely difficult to see anything and to be able to move around the under structures of bridges for inspections and check ups. Sarah Bergbreiter is in the beginning of a three-year project to design, build, and deploy a swarm of miniature robots, each no more than several centimeters long, that will aid in bridge inspection by climbing on them, traversing the tricky terrain of rivets and bolts on their undersides, and working together with minimal input from a human controller to store and relay images and measurements related to the strength and stability of the bridges they‘re crawling over.

The vision is to have a whole bunch of these robots crawling around on bridges. The average age of the American bridge is 42 years old, which is necessary for regular check-ups. Inspecting a bridge today is a tedious, hours-long task usually done by a team of experts. Using 50 to 100 bug-sized robots would cut down the amount of time needed for inspection by half and prevent the need to shut down a bridge to pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

The idea is that these robots, once given a command, would be autonomous, moving around a bridge and examining various surfaces and take measurements. The key is being able to stick and crawl over bridge surfaces, whether they‘re concrete or steel or painted steel.

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