The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced that CyPhy Works is among the 20 winners of new cost-sharing projects that will support innovative, high-risk research in new technologies that address critical national needs. The CyPhy Works project entitled “Civil Infrastructure Inspection and Monitoring Using Unmanned Air Vehicles” will develop the technologies required to create small, hovering, Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) for use in the inspection and monitoring of large-scale civil infrastructure elements such as bridges and dams. The award from NIST will total $2.4M over the next three years to support direct project costs.
“Robots have the potential to revolutionize many industries” said Helen Greiner, chief executive officer of CyPhy Works. “This award is indicative of the commercial potential of CyPhy Works’ existing technologies. It will allow us to develop the additional technologies required for civil infrastructure inspection.”
Technology Innovation Program (TIP) is a merit-based, competitive program that provides cost-shared funding for research projects by single, small or medium-sized businesses, or by joint ventures that also may include institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations and national laboratories. This project was selected from a TIP competition announced on March 26, 2009, seeking projects addressing two broad areas of national interest:
A number of research efforts are under way to develop “smart” sensor technologies to improve the monitoring of large, critical structures like bridges and dams, but few offer significant improvement over the current state of the practice that relies on visual inspection. CyPhy Works, working with the Georgia Institute of Technology Research Corporation, is attempting to develop a novel and potentially revolutionary inspection system based on small, unmanned, hovering robots fitted with video cameras and other sensors. The proposed Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) would slowly move along the sides or undersides of bridges and similar structures while relaying close-up, high-fidelity images and other data to engineers for “Robotic Assisted Inspection” (RAI).
Because the robots could work without the need to shut down bridge lanes or to rig safety harnesses and other equipment for human inspectors, they would greatly increase both the speed and safety of bridge and dam inspections. For particularly critical or at-risk structures, inspectors could use a more advanced technology, “Autonomous Robotic Monitoring” (ARM), where one or more dedicated inspection robots would be stationed at the structure and make periodic flights to detect potentially dangerous changes. Both approaches will require major advances in the current state of the art of small UAVs to allow them to fly and hover safely in potentially gusty winds for long periods with precise positioning. Current UAV technology, for example, uses GPS signals for maintaining position, but the technique is nowhere near precise enough to maintain position within extremely close proximity of a large structure. Moreover this technique becomes impossible to employ when the structure blocks the GPS signal.
CyPhy Works envisions a close-in navigation system that allows the robot to maintain a position and navigate with respect to the structure being inspected. If successful, the project will produce an advanced class of UAVs that would enable entirely novel, efficient, and relatively low-cost techniques for monitoring the health of the nation’s existing civil infrastructure. ARM, in particular would monitor our civil infrastructure without the need for an inspector on-site. This capability is critically needed for bridges and dams that are rated as substandard to warn of impending catastrophic failure. ARM requires the technologies developed for RAI, but has even higher technical risks and rewards associated with it.
Additional information on the Technology Innovation Program is available at http://www.nist.gov/tip. As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.
Currently CyPhy Works is focused on research, invention, and product development. A mailing list for additional information as it becomes available can be found at http://www.cyphyworks.com.
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