Why Drone Bridge Inspections are Safer and More Efficient

Bridges are required to go through regular inspection and maintenance to ensure public safety and prevent catastrophic failures. Traditionally, these inspections have been carried out by teams of engineers who must climb, rappel, or be lifted by cranes and bucket trucks to assess the condition of bridges visually. However, this process puts inspectors at significant risk of injury or death. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inspectors and testers suffered 79 fatal injuries on the job between 2011 and 2015, with falls as the leading cause. Using drone technology for bridge inspections can dramatically improve safety for inspectors while also providing greater efficiency and lower environmental impact.

Safety Benefits of Drone Bridge Inspections

Ensuring the safety of inspectors should be the top priority for any bridge inspection program. Drones provide a much safer way to thoroughly assess the condition of bridges without putting the lives of inspectors at risk. According to OSHA, falls account for more than a third of construction industry deaths every year. Bridge inspectors must operate at great heights above rivers, traffic, or difficult terrain. One small mistake can lead to a deadly fall. Drones completely remove this danger. 

In addition to improved safety for inspectors, drones can conduct more accurate inspections. Small defects like cracks or corrosion may be very difficult to spot from a distance during manual inspections. Today, Most bridge inspectors rely on binoculars, spotting scopes, and the naked eye. But drones can get close to any part of the structure with crystal clear, high-zoom cameras. Drones maintain visual focus and stability even in windy conditions. They also store a complete visual record of the inspection that engineers can analyze in depth later. This level of detail drastically reduces the risk of overlooking critical flaws.

Efficiency Benefits of Drone Bridge Inspections

In addition to improving safety, a drone bridge inspection offers major efficiency advantages over traditional methods. For most bridges, inspectors must painstakingly examine each structure component individually. That requires significant time as well as coordination of traffic control if lanes need to be closed. In contrast, drones can quickly and autonomously scan all surfaces of the bridge to gather comprehensive data. 

Drones’ detailed imagery and sensor data can be analyzed using specialized software. This software can identify areas of concern, prioritize repair needs, and even estimate repair costs. Having this information readily available improves planning and helps ensure cost-effective maintenance. Drones also facilitate more frequent inspections to monitor issues better and limit damage. Due to the expense and difficulties involved, traditional inspection methods often lead to spaced-out inspection cycles.

Environmental Benefits of Drone Bridge Inspections

In addition to safety and efficiency gains, drone bridge inspections are more environmentally friendly than traditional methods. The diesel-powered trucks, generators, lifts, and other heavy equipment required for standard inspections produce significant air pollution and carbon emissions. The emissions directly impact air quality for residents and ecosystems near bridges. Diesel exhaust contains over 40 toxic air contaminants and is a human carcinogen. Comparatively, drones produce zero direct emissions during flight. They operate using clean, electric battery power and are small enough to be transported in an inspector’s normal vehicle. Drones eliminate tons of emissions that would otherwise be generated by fossil-fueled inspection equipment. Their use directly reduces the carbon footprint of bridge inspections across entire transportation networks.

Drone inspections are also less disruptive to neighborhoods and natural habitats surrounding bridges. Standard inspections often require full or partial lane closures over several days, causing traffic backups and detours. The noise and activity of cranes and lifts parked on the bridge can disturb residents. But drones can be operated with no lanes closed and minimal noise. Closures also interfere with wildlife access to habitat corridors provided by water or terrain below bridges. Boat-based inspection techniques cause additional aquatic disturbances. Drones have a much smaller footprint, minimal noise pollution, and no aquatic impact. Overall, drone technology enables bridge inspections to be carried out sustainably and with less environmental damage.


Regular inspection and maintenance keep bridges safe for the public and prevent costly failures. But traditional inspection methods put inspectors’ lives at risk and have numerous inefficiencies. Drone technology provides an opportunity to dramatically improve bridge inspections’ safety, speed, cost, and sustainability nationwide. 

Drones eliminate the need to place inspectors in difficult situations at height. They can rapidly gather comprehensive visual data to identify structural defects. Drone inspections have lower associated costs and emissions than large manned equipment.

Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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