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Missouri S&T Robots May Help State Inspect Bridges

Missouri S&T's Mark Bookout stands near one of the drones being tested to help inspect and repair bridges.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri S&T's Mark Bookout stands near one of the drones being tested to help inspect and repair bridges.

Missouri University of Science and Technology could be part of the solution to the state’s bridge-maintenance problem.

The state is behind on its maintenance and is working with Missouri S&T on robots to make it easier to inspect and repair bridges.

The research program includes drones that can inspect the bridges from the air, and robots that cling to the side of bridges and crawl along the surfaces.

Mark Bookout, IT director for the research project, said the goal is to make it easier and safer for engineers to get information about the status of bridges.

“It’s got to be very easy to use, so the engineers can do their jobs and not worry about flying a drone,” Bookout said. “More like a toaster for bridge inspection, just press a button and it goes.”

While the operation is designed to be easy, the data collected will be detailed.

Genda Chen, a civil engineering professor at Missouri S&T, said in addition to the robots, the research is developing new sensors. Chen said both the drones and the crawling robots will be able to compile more data than an engineer could do on their own.

“The sensor can tell strain, temperature and also how much corrosion loss there has been in the cross section at the same time as collecting data on the exterior of the bridge structure.”

The new technology will also be able to make small repairs on some bridges. The drone can carry a repair arm “that can seal a crack and keep moisture from getting to the rebar, for example,” Chen said.

The university is testing various models with the Missouri Department of Transportation that could be in regular use in the next two years. The project includes training for MoDOT staff to use the new technology.

Bridge repair is a priority of Gov. Mike Parson. He used his State of the State address to propose spending $350 million to repair 250 bridges. The Legislature is considering the program.

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Jonathan Ahl joined Iowa Public Radio as News Director in July 2008. He leads the news and talk show teams in field reporting, feature reporting, audio documentaries, and talk show content. With more than 17 years in public media, Jonathan is a nationally award-winning reporter that has worked at public radio stations in Macomb, Springfield and Peoria, IL. He served WCBU-FM in Peoria as news director before coming to Iowa. He also served as a part-time instructor at Bradley University teaching journalism and writing courses. Jonathan is currently serving a second term as president of PRNDI ââ
Jonathan Ahl
Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. His duties also include covering central and southern Missouri for Harvest Public Media. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.