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Flying, Swimming Drone Inspects DE Bridge

Monday, July 24, 2017

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While drone inspections of bridges and other structures are becoming more common every day, a recent inspection of the Delaware Memorial Bridge was a first of its kind: An inspection by a hybrid drone operating both in the air and underwater.

Naviator at Delaware Memorial Bridge
Courtesy of Delaware River Bridge Authority

Naviator performed the first-ever inspection of a bridge by a hybrid air/underwater drone at the Delaware Memorial Bridge last month.

The Naviator, an unmanned vehicle developed at the Rutgers School of Engineering, successfully performed an inspection of the twin spans between Delaware and New Jersey on June 18, according to an account released earlier this month by the Delaware River & Bay Authority.

Naviator’s Genesis

A team headed by engineering professor F. Javier Diez developed the Naviator, first creating a prototype in 2013. The Office of Naval Research provided a $618,000 grant for the project in 2015. The group created a startup, SubUAS LLC, to work to commercialize the technology, and in 2016, the Navy awarded another grant of just under $80,000 to the company to aid in the Naviator’s development.

Diez noted at the time of the 2015 grant that the military could potentially use such a hybrid drone for finding underwater mines, or for underwater surveillance. Other potential applications include search and rescue and the monitoring of offshore or underwater oil and gas assets for spills.

Inspection Success

Other potential applications may still be under development, but the future is now in the world of bridge inspections: The Naviator successfully inspected the two suspension spans both above and under the water. The Delaware Memorial Bridge, opened in 1951 with the second bridge added in 1968, spans nearly 2 miles, with a main span that’s half a mile long.

“As these recent tests demonstrated,” Diez said, “what previously might require a helicopter, boat and underwater equipment, the Naviator was able to complete as a single deployment with fewer complications and in less time.”

“Our infrastructure assets are subject to rigorous inspection programs on an annual basis and drones have the potential to make these inspections significantly safer and more cost efficient,” said DRBA Executive Director Thomas J. Cook. “The ability to have a single autonomous vehicle inspect piers or vessels both above and below the water line is no longer science fiction.”

According to, the Naviator currently rings up at $20,000-$30,000, but SubUAS hopes to scale up to get the price per unit down to about $5,000.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Drones; Inspection equipment; NA; North America; Quality Control; Technology

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