The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation has selected New Mexico State University to be the lead subject-matter expert to perform the first Reclamation dam inspection using an unmanned aircraft system (UAS).
This aeronautical research project will take place at Elephant Butte Dam in New Mexico, and Reclamation is providing New Mexico State with $35,000. The flight will take place in the next couple of months.
New Mexico State will work with Reclamation staff to develop the concept of operations, address safety requirements, select the UAS and appropriate sensors, validate flight procedures, and perform the inspection.
According to Reclamation, the research project will determine the applicability of UAS as a tool for infrastructure inspection using LiDAR, infrared, photogrammetry and HD video.
It will also help Reclamation determine potential issues with the dam’s infrastructure, including concrete cracks, spalls and other subsurface defects, such as moisture where it should not be and any erosion or other topographical changes to the dam and spillway.
The project is funded by Reclamation’s Research and Development Program, which focuses on researching innovative, workable solutions to challenging water- and power-management issues in the western U.S.