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Leveraging Drones and Embedded Vision for Road Inspection

Leveraging Drones and Embedded Vision for Road InspectionDrivers may soon be cruising down smooth roads everywhere, thanks to drones that use embedded vision for road inspections. Drones have already been used for performing nuclear reactor inspections and to detect damage on wind turbines. But now, with this emerging technology, a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) could care for the tedious, time-consuming, and costly task of road inspection.

Benefits of Using UAVs for Road Inspection

Finding different types of road damage is a crucial task in road maintenance. Cracks and potholes can cause damage to vehicles. They can also result in safety hazards and accidents, and these hazards only get worse the longer they are ignored. Drones equipped with embedded vision are able to scan roadways more frequently than road crews, allowing the detection of damage faster.

Because crews cannot repair every defect on the road, detection is often subjective and qualitative. Decisions depend on the experience of the person inspecting the roadway. But thanks to recent advances in airborne technology, drones with embedded vision cameras offer new opportunities for inspection. A UAV with well-defined parameters is able to report a road area as needing repair with great accuracy. 

How UAVs Conduct Road Inspections and Maintenance 

A stereo vision embedded vision system, which includes an algorithm that can extract 3D depth information from images, would be able to first capture a reference view. Differences between the reference image and real-time imaging are used to produce a disparity map. That map is then fed into a mathematical function that makes damaged areas easier to spot.

The stereo camera is mounted on a drone to fly around and capture the road images. The images are processed using a PC and graphics card. Multiple data sets and thousands of image pairs, the reference, and the target image, are compared to both synthesized and real data sets of potholes, cracks, and other road damages.

Future of UAVs and Embedded Vision

Researchers hope to use the data obtained from the disparity maps to estimate the drone’s flight trajectory and reconstruct necessary 3D maps using simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithms.

The commercial drone industry is ramping up development and production. Drones are being used for other maintenance inspections and to help scan natural disaster zones. Police departments and fire departments are also performing field tests to determine how the UAV can assist first responders.

Discover the possibilities of drone technology by visiting our Embedded Vision Systems in UAVs educational section.

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