Microsoft HoloLens and Digital Twins Redefines Bridge Inspections

 In CraneMorley

Bridge inspections are an extremely dangerous task. Each inspection is labor intensive, time consuming, and resource draining. Yet they remain vital to ensure that bridges remain safe to use and determine when maintenance is required.

The process has remained relatively the same throughout the years with an engineer hung from the side of the bridge. The few advancements to bridge inspection have done little to improve this workflow. New equipment has helped increase safety. Cameras allow engineers to capture images and videos. However, this creates a new set of challenges that complicate this workflow. The process still requires someone to hang from the side of the bridge to capture images. These images and videos do not provide engineers the necessary information like they are on site.

The state of Minnesota has 20,000 bridges alone. This creates a difficult task to improve efficiency with an outdated inspection process. Minnesota Department of Transportation needed to do something to redefine bridge inspections.

Along came Microsoft Azure Remote Rendering, Microsoft HoloLens, digital twins, and drones to transform the way they inspect bridges. The MN-DOT developed a use case that utilizes drones to efficiently capture images and videos of bridges. Microsoft Azure Remote Rendering then converts these recording into digital twins. The HoloLens and mixed reality bring these digital twins to life. Engineers can measure the width and depth on cracks within the bridges like they are physically there. They also can pull up past inspections and compare them side by side.

The HoloLens supports a collaborative workflow like Microsoft Mesh. Engineers collaborate with other experts from different locations like they are on site together. This new workflow has been described as a game changer to improve efficiency. Instead of describing which specific part of the bridge or crack is of concern, engineers can place annotations as visual for others. An immersive mixed reality workflow eliminates the “need for traditional notes and speeds up the (inspection) process”.

Nothing beats onsite inspections. Yet they are becoming increasingly more difficult. In big cities advance planning must be done for lane closures to reduce traffic and small cities are more likely to have insufficient funding. A hybrid inspection process between onsite and virtual inspections supports an ideal workflow to improve efficiency and ensure bridges are properly inspected.

This use case can be applied to other inspections scenarios. This workflow can influence other inspections such as high-rise buildings, highways, and complex structures.

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