Intelligent Robot Boats Could Be Deployed to Inspect Bridges

iStock / iStock

America has a terrible problem with aging infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers regularly gives the country failing grades on the safety and capacity of its bridges, tunnels, roadways, and more, largely because of delayed maintenance and under-investment.

But the very act of figuring out how major infrastructure projects are faring can be difficult. Bridges, in particular, need to be inspected by divers who can visually analyze the structures' underwater support systems. It’s an expensive, dangerous system, but one that might eventually be replaced by robots, according to Bloomberg.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University are building robotic boats that can make decisions autonomously. Equipped with underwater cameras, they could inspect bridges and determine whether further action by human engineers is necessary, or if everything is looking stable, simply move on to the next inspection.

Autonomous boats designed to function in chaotic environments like harbors and ports could also be trained to help direct ship traffic and assist in docking. The researchers recently received an almost $470,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct a three-year project on the subject.

[h/t Bloomberg]