Building a cooperative, autonomous, operating drone system to enhance transport safety
The Drones4Safety (D4S) project is a Horizon 2020 (H2020) project that aims to increase the safety of the European civil transport system by developing a system of autonomous, self-charging, and cooperative drones to inspect a big portion of transportation infrastructure in a continuous operation. The project solutions utilize the existing energized infrastructure, like overhead power or rail lines, to charge its drones to operate for a longer time. The project gets information about the transport infrastructure to be inspected from open maps and satellite data and forwards that information to its drones to conduct their autonomous and collaborative inspection missions.
The conceptual view of the project shows a set of drones that have a self-charging capability to harvest energy from overhead power line cables (transmission lines/railway catenary lines). The drones are working autonomously in a swarm and apply sensor fusion and onboard signal processing techniques to fly, inspect, and recharge autonomously. Advanced AI algorithms have been developed and trained to detect anomalies in the gathered transportation infrastructure (railways/bridges) data. A cloud service system has been also developed to offer inspection services such as mission control and swarm fleet management.
The D4S project’s main objectives are:
- developing a solution for harvesting energy for continuous drone inspection;
- increasing inspection efficiency by AI development;
- providing a platform for a cooperative drone operation for inspections;
- building a cloud-based system for autonomous navigation.
These will enable drones to inspect linear railway and bridge infrastructure across the EU member states while benefiting from the recommendations by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for having common European rules on drones to ensure safe, secure, and sustainable operations.
The consortium is composed of 9 organizations from 5 different EU member states, with SDU (Denmark) as coordinator. In the project, the Eucentre Foundation brings its expertise in bridge damage inspection and structural assessment, in the relevant Work Packages. In WP4, the role of Eucentre is to supply the dataset for identifying structural elements and damage to be used for the training and validation of AI algorithm, and to implement a bridge simplified structural assessment methodology accounting for the presence of damage. The support for drafting protocols and planning for bridge inspection to be implemented in the system is an additional role carried out within the project. Finally, Eucentre leads WP7 (system integration and case study), within which is responsible for the bridge use case.