Principal and Considerations for Design of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Inspection and Survey

Link to Latest Report: Final Report

In recent years, drone technology has emerged in many industries and applications, greatly impacting and revolutionizing their processes. They have broad ranges of application from governmental, to civil, military and many more applications. The use of drone in the construction industry has ranged from construction management to inspection and evaluation of constructed facilities. It is therefore believed that drone technology has also a place in bridge construction, especially when geometry control, inspection, and surveying/mapping is concerned.

This study aims to identify the principal and considerations for the design of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for inspection and survey processes. It provides a background of the current stage of the technologies and design parameters that should be taken into consideration for different aerial configurations. Additionally, a very robust design tool, Nonlinear Aeroelastic Trim and Stability of HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) Aircraft (NATASHA) is customized to assess the aeroelastic stability and design of flexible fixed-wing that are beneficiary to survey and inspection maneuvers. Three aircraft configurations that are suitable for mapping and survey maneuvers have been designed with NATASHA. These designs are adjustable based on the payload requirement (camera, data acquisition system, etc.) and flight conditions. The computer program has been modified to take into account these parameters systematically and assess the stability of the aircraft. Moreover, an implementation demonstration of small rotorcraft drone for conceptual verification is performed for selective identified processes and applications. A model drone (rotorcraft) was used to carry out a different view of existing bridge segments in FIU Engineering Campus, which were part of the exit ramp of the Fort Lauderdale airport that was removed in 2013. As an exercise, the pilot flew the drone in the vicinity of the bridge segments and captured clear pictures of the damaged part of the bridge.


The objectives of this research were to identify processes in bridge construction and rehabilitation that can benefit from drone application and development of preliminary drone systems and design parameters that would best serve these processes. A comprehensive literature review for the current stage technology and limitations that cause complication in drone usage for this application as well as the solutions to these limitations are provided. The study also provides design requirements; identifies the existing drone systems that readily are applicable and those that would require adaptation or new designs. An example of implementation for the purpose of demonstration was performed for selective identified process and application.


  • Task 1 – Identification of bridge Construction processes benefiting from drone application
    • A review of available literature and data was performed to study various processes and operations carried out for both new construction and rehabilitation of existing construction. These processes were categorized based on how they would benefit from drone application.
  • Task 2 – Determination of drone design parameters and technology for bridge construction processes
    •  Available drone technologies are reviewed within bridge construction and other industries, and general applications benefiting the bridge construction industry. Also, the most important design parameters are identified.
  • Task 3 – UAV design: aeroelastic trim and stability
    • The Nonlinear Aeroelastic Trim and Stability of Hale Aircraft (NATASHA) which is the state-of-the-art computer program for analysis of different fixed-wing UAV configurations is presented. NATASHA was developed primarily under NASA grant at Georgia Institute of Technology. The design input variables of NATASHA for the purpose of customization of different UAV for DOT engineers are explained. Three main aircraft configuration examples are provided. These inputs are customized for DOT engineers to be able to design the aircraft while satisfying stability concerns. Furthermore, two different rotorcrafts were used to first, model a sensor mounted on the drone and shows the asymmetric loading state and second, to obtain pictures carry out different views of the existing bridge segments in FIU Engineering Campus.
  • Task 4 – Conclusions and recommendations
    •  Conclusions will be made on different types of UAV systems and their respective suitable processes. Their pros and cons that each system is facing. Additionally, we will provide recommendations on how the numerical tool (i.e., NATASHA) can be upgraded for rotorcraft systems.
  • Task 5 – Final report preparation
    • A final report documenting the research effort will be submitted at the conclusion of the project.

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Prof. Pezhman Mardanpour
Co-Principal Investigator: Dr. Armin Mehrabi
Research Assistant: Ehsan Izadpanahi

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