US Navy explores drone technology to scan ships for corrosion

Aerial Alchemy personnel during a US Navy research vessel digitization project, 2019 (Aerial Alchemy)

Posted on Jul 18, 2021, 10:47 PM by

The maritime executive

The Port Hueneme division of the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center is working with a local company to analyze existing ships with video and lidar, then process the data for signs of corrosion.

Several companies in the commercial marine industry have developed similar technology based on image processing – for example, the corrosion detection system from ABS and the product from DNV. The Navy’s own Office of Naval Research has already developed a similar tool, called Topside Drone. The Port Hueneme division started with a clean slate, working with remote sensing technology company Aerial Alchemy to develop a new approach.

Aerial Alchemy develops medium and heavy transport drones that use sensors equipped with lidar and imaging technologies to digitize a physical asset and create a 3D digital representation. The goal of the partnership is to explore how to use the company’s drones, its processing system and the visual data collected to detect areas that may be exhibiting corrosion, according to Alan Jaeger, applications manager at the applications office. of NSWC PHD Research and Technology.

“The idea … is if we can use various sensors to identify this information without having to put human eyes in it,” Jaeger said. “If we can, the next step is to put them on drones or unmanned planes, so we don’t have to send a sailor to a ship. We can send a drone, and it can scan the equipment. and identify underlying corrosion or damage, for example. If we can get that data, then we can start planning for maintenance, preventive maintenance and repairs. “

This is Aerial Alchemy’s second project with the NSWC PHD. The first was to prove the stability, reliability and accuracy of the company’s drones to successfully create an “as-built” digital model of the USS Independence (LCS 2), which is used as a basic digital twin.

With the second project, the team relies on data from the red, blue, and green sensors that a visible camera provides, as well as a more sophisticated scanning system that finely analyzes different wavelengths of light. This facilitates the remote detection and identification of chemicals generated during corrosion.

According to Spaulding, the technique only works well if the sensor data is combined with a stable UAV platform, precision navigation, and advanced computer analysis. When ready for deployment, “this solution should provide a more objective assessment of surface deterioration in a much more efficient, cost-effective and safe manner than a human inspector could,” he said.

The team begins by testing its sensors and analytical techniques in the laboratory. If he plays well, he could have commercial potential outside of the Navy, Spaulding said.

“Navy warships are among the most sophisticated machines in the world, and the nature of combat systems with compound curvature and multiple angles, combined with composite materials, antennas and sensors create complex geometries. If our technology can be demonstrated on combat systems then it has applicability to other parts of the ship that are less complex, ”he said.

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