Unmanned Aircraft System-Based Structural Health Monitoring
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The Symposium provides undergraduates from all academic disciplines with an opportunity to share their research with the university community and other guests through conference-style oral presentations. The Symposium represents part of a larger effort of Iowa State University to enhance, support, and celebrate undergraduate research activity.
Though coordinated by the University Honors Program, all undergraduate students are eligible and encouraged to participate in the Symposium. Undergraduates conducting research but not yet ready to present their work are encouraged to attend the Symposium to learn about the presentation process and students not currently involved in research are encouraged to attend the Symposium to learn about the broad range of undergraduate research activities that are taking place at ISU.
The first Symposium was held in April 2007. The 39 students who presented research and their mentors collectively represented all of ISU's Colleges: Agriculture and Life Sciences, Business, Design, Engineering, Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, and the Graduate College. The event has grown to regularly include more than 100 students presenting on topics that span the broad range of disciplines studied at ISU.
While many think of unmanned aerial vehicles as only serving military purposes, their scope has widened immensely over recent years into the commercial realm, and even into consumer hands. Using unmanned aircraft systems to diagnose health problems and create risk values can ensure the safety of many expensive complex engineering systems, without the intrusion of human error. Engineered systems, such as space shuttles, infrastructure, airplanes, and even the runways they sit on go through regular fatigue, and need to be health monitored to ensure their safety in continued use. To do this, we attach imaging devices to a variety of unmanned aircrafts, such as fixed wing UAVs and multicopters, and fly them autonomously around the structures we are observing. They capture HD images, thermographic, infrared, ultrasonic, and other data, and send it to ground stations to be analyzed. The ground stations take other data, such as weather, and combine it with these images to numerically evaluate the safety of the structure in question. The safety values are run through algorithms to find a final risk factor value for the structure. Risk factors could be used in a variety of industries to better assess the safety and longevity of engineered systems. The health monitoring done by the unmanned aircraft systems can also be used for non-destructive health monitoring to find where repairs need to be made on airplanes, runways, bridges, and more. Research in unmanned aircraft systems health monitoring can be expanded further into more industries, and can have a lasting impact on engineering safety in the years to come.