UFTI Affiliate Receives Funding from FDOT for New, Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (sUAV) Project

Dr. Jennifer Rice, an assistant professor in the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment (ESSIE), has received funding from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to investigate using drones to inspect bridges.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) recognizes that part of improving the condition of these bridges is developing more modern methods for performing inspections, which decrease the costs and nuisances involved, while improving the quality of data obtained. Dr. Rice and her team, which includes co-PI Dr. Peter Ifju of the UF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, will use what is known as small, unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAVs) for use in these inspections.

According to a 2013 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), of the 12,070 bridges in the state of Florida, 16.9% are considered either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. This, however is substantially less than the 24.9% of bridges that fall into either category for the United States as a whole.

“We are doing a pilot study to determine if small, unmanned aerial vehicles can provide an option for safer and more cost-effective bridge inspections,” Dr. Jennifer Rice, the principal investigator of the project, explained. “We will be looking into the technical, practical and legal aspects of doing inspections this way.”

Small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAVs) offer potential advantages over traditional inspection strategies with:

  • Improved access
  • Increased safety
  • Lower costs
  • Potential in having more accurate inspection results

This collaborative project brings together UF’s UAV and bridge maintenance experts, as well as the use and evaluation of UF’s existing aerial vehicle, the octocopter, to determine important operational parameters and other criteria to reach the study’s goals.

Six high mast light poles (HML) and eight bridges will be inspected, with half being performed alongside traditional inspectors. The rest will be performed with no prior knowledge of the structure so that findings can be compared with the results of recently performed inspections. An in-depth cost comparison with current inspection procedures will also be performed to quantify the potential financial benefit of utilizing a sUAV system for bridge inspections.

About the Principal Investigators

Dr. Jennifer Rice

Jennifer Rice, Ph.D. is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida and works as Faculty in the Small Infrastructure Management Laboratory. Previously she worked as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Texas Tech University (2009-2011).

Dr. Rice’s research is focused on advancing technological and analytical strategies to enable effective monitoring and management of civil infrastructure.  Her primary interests include the development and application of smart sensor networks for structural health monitoring (SHM), full scale bridge testing and evaluation, damage detection, and efforts to improve structural sustainability through advanced monitoring and control.

Dr. Peter G. Ifju

Peter Ifju is currently a Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He is an expert in the areas of micro air vehicles, experimental stress analysis, optical methods for stress analysis and composite materials stress analysis and fabrication. The University of Florida MAV Team, lead by Dr. Ifju, won first place overall in the International MAV Competition in 1999-2006 In 2000 Discovery magazine granted Dr. Ifju a Top Ten Technology Innovation Award for Micro Air Vehicle Development.