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July 4, 2019

New technology promises faster, more accurate bridge deck inspections



As reported on, a new system tested in southwest Michigan promises to improve bridge deck inspections by providing greater detail and safety for workers – at near-highway speeds.

Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan Tech Research Institute are using a 3-D optical bridge evaluation system, known as 3DOBS.

“It is a high-quality camera that we attach to the trailer hitch of any vehicle and we drive it across bridges,” said Rick Dobson, the research scientist at the institute who is leading the project.

Dobson said the camera collects high-quality imagery at a high frame rate.

“From that, we can create 2-D mosaic images and from that we can extract condition information about the bridge deck,” Dobson said.

The deck of a bridge is its surface. The deck can be concrete, steel, open grating or wood, but with this project, the focus is on concrete bridge decks.

Damage to concrete bridge decks can begin as surface cracks before worsening. Cracks in the concrete can expose the steel reinforcement to road salt and water, causing further issues.

Federal law requires all bridges to be inspected at least every two years to monitor and report condition ratings. Typically, an inspection involves a visual review from the shoulder, outside of traffic. Traditional bridge deck inspections might miss subtle hairline cracks when conducted from the shoulder.

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