Drones #3: Exploring the Depths – Underwater Drones Revolutionizing Civil Engineering

The latest article in our series on drones explains the benefits of using underwater drones in civil engineering projects. The author, Stephan KRAJICEK, Team Leader, Mechanical Projects in SYSTRA Canada’s Rolling Stock Division, is part of one of the winning teams in SYSTRA’s SPARK Challenge 2022.

Advancements in technology have propelled the field of civil engineering into new frontiers, enabling engineers to explore and conquer previously inaccessible environments. One such breakthrough is the use of underwater drones, also known as unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), which have emerged as game changers in various sectors.

In this article, we will delve into how underwater drones are transforming the landscape of civil engineering, revolutionizing construction, inspection, and maintenance processes beneath the water’s surface.

Enhanced Inspection Capabilities

Civil engineering projects involving underwater structures, such as bridges, dams, pipelines, and offshore platforms, often require regular inspections for maintenance and safety purposes. Previously, these inspections required human divers, which posed risks, limitations, and substantial costs. With the advent of underwater drones, engineers now have an efficient and cost-effective means to carry out thorough inspections.

Equipped with high-resolution cameras, sonar systems, and sensors, underwater drones can capture detailed imagery and video footage of underwater structures. These drones can navigate challenging environments, such as deep water or confined spaces, to provide real-time visual feedback to engineers and inspectors on the surface.

The data collected helps identify potential structural issues, corrosion, or other anomalies, facilitating proactive maintenance and reducing the risk of catastrophic failures.

Precise Construction Surveys

Underwater construction projects, such as the installation of offshore wind farms or underwater pipelines, demand precise planning and execution. Underwater drones offer a valuable tool for conducting accurate surveys and assessments before construction begins.

With the ability to collect bathymetric data, underwater drones enable engineers to obtain detailed information about the seabed topography, sediment profiles, and potential hazards. This data aids in determining the optimal placement of structures, estimating construction costs, and mitigating risks associated with unpredictable underwater conditions.

By incorporating underwater drones into the construction process, civil engineers can streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and ensure project success.

Efficient Maintenance and Repairs

Maintaining and repairing underwater infrastructure has always been a complex and time-consuming task. However, underwater drones have significantly simplified these processes, making them more efficient and cost-effective.

Equipped with robotic arms and specialized tools, underwater drones can perform intricate tasks such as cleaning, welding, and cutting underwater structures. These drones eliminate the need for divers to operate in hazardous conditions, reducing risks and minimizing downtime during maintenance operations.

Additionally, the ability of underwater drones to access confined spaces and inspect hard-to-reach areas allows for prompt identification of maintenance requirements, preventing minor issues from escalating into major problems.

Environmental Monitoring

The impact of civil engineering projects on marine ecosystems is a critical concern. Underwater drones are also playing a crucial role in environmental monitoring and conservation efforts.

Equipped with environmental sensors, underwater drones can collect data on water quality, temperature, salinity, and marine life distribution. This information helps engineers and researchers assess the ecological impact of construction projects and implement necessary mitigation measures.

By integrating environmental monitoring into the planning and execution phases, civil engineers can strike a balance between development and conservation, ensuring sustainable and responsible practices.

CONCLUSION: reaching new depths

Underwater drones are revolutionizing civil engineering by enabling engineers to venture into the depths of water bodies and execute projects with greater precision and efficiency. From inspections and surveys to maintenance and environmental monitoring, these unmanned vehicles have proven instrumental in improving safety, reducing costs, and minimizing the environmental footprint of underwater construction projects.

As technology continues to advance, we can expect further refinements in underwater drone capabilities, enabling civil engineers to push the boundaries of what is possible in the underwater realm. With their versatility and transformative potential, underwater drones have undoubtedly become indispensable tools for the modern civil engineer, unlocking a new era of innovation and progress beneath the waves.


The next article in the series will explain the impact of drone usage on environmental assessment.

Consult the Drones page under our Digital Solutions section to learn more. Header photo credit: Octopus Foundation under CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

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