Inside Unmanned Systems

OCT-NOV 2016

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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12 unmanned systems inside   October/November 2016 AIR RAIL INSPECTION to a track inspector who, in real time, can look at those images and confirm there are no de- fects or that we need to send an inspector out to investigate further." UAS for Inspection Today, companies like BNSF use a variety of technologies and methods to inspect the rails, Trevino said. For example, inspectors use pen- etrating radar to look at the integrity of the ballast, which is the infrastructure that sup- ports the railroad ties and allows for proper water drainage away from the rails. When it's time to check for damage in the thousands of bridges BNSF trains run across, track inspec- tors typically hang over the edge of cherry pickers to get the view they need—which is not only dangerous, it can only happen when that portion of the track is shut down. "There are a lot of safety precautions we have to put in place to ensure inspectors doing that kind of work stay out of harm's way," said Trev- ino, noting they've used several different quad- copters and payloads for inspections. "UAS al- low us to capture images from all around the bridge with high-definition cameras. We can keep the track open, our people are safe and we still accomplish the job." Jarlath O'Neil-Dunne, director of the Uni- versity of Vermont's Spatial Analysis Lab, has worked with the state transportation agency and the engineers the agency hires to provide UAS services to the rail industry. There are a lot of dif- ficult areas to inspect in these often 100-year-old bridges, he said, and that's where UAS can be so beneficial. He's used the albris from senseFly for these types of assessments. The quadcopter fea- tures a camera on its head, which can easily tilt up to take photos under a bridge and then tilt down to take images over a bridge. Before UAS, these inspections were typical- ly kept as paper surveys, but now rail compa- Photo courtesy of Union Pacific SEMI- AUTOMATED FLIGHTS Ed Adelman, general director for safety analysis at Union Pacific, plans to create sophisticated ortho-maps for 3-D modeling that can be used to develop semi-automated flight paths. That way the company's UAS can be pre-programmed to fly inspection routes operators would otherwise have to fly by hand. LESS PREPARATION Flying UAS for rail inspections would cut down the time needed for repair team positioning and prep work, said Union Pacific's Ed Adelman, general director for safety analysis. "It's also an inexpensive platform, so if we can automate it to provide more inspection information in the same amount of time by deploying more of the units, that's something we would want to consider," he said. Union Pacific Chief Drone Pilot Bob Meder at a recent test flight.

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