The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced a partnership with New Mexico State University to develop a dam inspection program that uses unmanned aircraft systems.
Reclamation's Research and Development Program is providing $35,000 to NMSU to fund the project, which is to address concepts of operations and safety requirements. The NMSU program will also select the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system and appropriate sensor equipment.
"The research project will determine the applicability of unmanned aircraft systems as a tool for infrastructure inspection using light detection and ranging (LIDAR), infrared (IR), photogrammetry and HD video," USBR said in a release.
Data collected by the unmanned aircraft will help Reclamation identify potential safety problems, including cracks, spalls, erosion and other topographical changes.
NMSU is expected to make its first flight within the next few months, Reclamation said, with tests taking place at the 28-MW Elephant Butte hydroelectric plant in New Mexico's Sierra County.
The use of unmanned aircraft to conduct dam safety inspections is a growing interest for many infrastructure owners in the United States.
"The use of UAVs for dam inspections is an emerging technology that needs to be pursued," Rob Romocki, former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams safety program manager, said at the U.S. Society on Dams annual conference earlier this year. "It's a matter of safety of cost effectiveness, and using these vehicles is a better choice on some occasions than using inspectors attached to a rope, rappelling down the face of a dam."
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