On June 18, the first combination aerial and underwater bridge inspection was successfully conducted on the Delaware Memorial Bridge Twin Spans, using a hybrid unmanned vehicle called the Naviator, which can fly and swim.
The inspection was a result of a collaborative effort that included the Delaware River Bay Authority (DRBA), Rutgers University-New Brunswick (RU-NB) and SubUAS LLC.
All parties involved with the inspection have high praises for the Naviator unmanned vehicle, and believe that the vehicle can be a gamechanger for a lot of industries moving forward.
“The ability to have a single autonomous vehicle inspect piers or vessels both above and below the water line is no longer science fiction,” says Thomas J. Cook, executive director of the DRBA.
Rutgers-New Brunswick School of Engineering Professor F. Javier Diez says, “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.”
“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.”
Finally, Mark Contarino, vice president of technology, SubUAS LLC, says “the Naviator drone’s ability to repeatedly transition from water to air in less than two seconds has opened up novel markets that will find these capabilities advantageous.”
Thanks to funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Naviator was developed at Rutgers School of Engineering, which is an official FAA UAS testing facility.
The Naviator prototype was developed in 2013 “with subsequent technologic advancements to its propulsion, buoyancy and control systems,” by researchers in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers-New Brunswick, under the direction of Professor Diez.
Support of the Naviator’s development has also come from the Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT).
The Naviator research team is making enhancements to the vehicle so that it can be used not only for bridge inspections, but also for applications such as ocean floor mapping, harbor security, and search and rescue operations, to name a few.