The “Inspecting and Preserving Infrastructure through Robotic Exploration” or INSPIRE center is a center for research being conducted on the use of robotics in maintaining infrastructure, which will include robots that will collect data on structures and robots that will be able to repair the structures. INSPIRE is an organization that includes members from Missouri S&T, City College of New York, Georgia Tech, University of Colorado, Boulder, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the University of Nevada, Reno.
The Missouri S&T location for INSPIRE currently has 16 graduate students and is working in conjunction with Miner Air, the UAV design team. INSPIRE is interdisciplinary and includes professors and graduate students from civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering, as well as some computer science majors. Dr. Genda Chen is the director for INSPIRE-UTC at Missouri S&T and is also the school’s director for the SPAR (System and Process Assessment Research) lab having a Ph.D in civil engineering.
Dr. Genda Chen, was awarded grant money on August 8th from UM president Mun Choi to be used for some of his projects. Two other recipients of this grant at Missouri S&T were Dr. Richard Brow for new medical materials research equipment and Dr. Kamal Khayat for research on more durable cement binders.
INSPIRE’s new robots will have a large variety of specific uses in infrastructure. One of their larger projects being lead by Dr. Chen is for a climbing robot that will survey damage on bridges by attaching to an area and moving around while taking pictures. The robot is supposed to attach to the bridge rather than survey from something like a drone in order to provide more stable coverage, rather than have the camera wobbling seen from things like helicopters or drones. More stable footage will make it easier for engineers to assess exactly what they’re looking at. Reno is also working on a similar climbing robot that they plan to begin testing next year at bridgeside.
Other robots being worked on by INSPIRE are robots that will be able to fly over and deliver epoxy to damaged regions, a robot that can track erosion in water systems near foundations by tracking sediment movement, a UAV to scan for bridge string conditions, and a robot that will take microwave imaging to see damage hidden inside of cement. In order to train new age construction workers and engineers to use the new robots and UAVs, INSPIRE is also working on a simulator to use these new robots.
Within the next year Dr. Genda Chen is hoping to begin working on another robot that will move around and scan for structural damage underwater using sonar. He also hopes to get a small team of undergraduate students to help him test out the climbing robot in the field; students would be paid and maybe even get counted for some internship experience and travel around in a high tech RV during the school year, although plans for this are still being worked on.