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Underwater drone inspects Delaware Memorial Bridge

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On June 18, a new model of drone capable of flying and swimming handled both the air and water inspections of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

The unmanned vehicle, called the Naviator, was developed at the Rutgers School of Engineering with funding from the Office of Naval Research. The prototype for the Navitator began testing in 2013. Four years later, the bridge inspection was the first major test of the technology on a “high-value asset.”  The Delaware River Bay Authority collaborated on the test

The research team is spearheaded by School of Engineering professor F. Javier Diez.

“The Naviator’s ability to seamlessly and rapidly transition from flying in the air to maneuvering underwater provides tremendous opportunities for a number of industries and naval operations,” Diez said. “As these recent tests demonstrated, what previously might require a helicopter, boat, and underwater equipment, the Naviator was able to complete as a single deployment with fewer complications and in less time.”

His team will continue to develop the Naviator’s capabilities, increasing its ability to take on ocean floor mapping, harbor security, search and rescue operations, and a range of other tasks.

“Our infrastructure assets are subject to rigorous inspection programs on an annual basis and drones have the potential to make these inspections significantly safer and more cost efficient,”  said Thomas J. Cook, executive director of the Delaware River Bay Authority. “The ability to have a single autonomous vehicle inspect piers or vessels both above and below the water line is no longer science fiction.”

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