2020 – A novel approach to defect mapping and condition monitoring of large dams using drones and digital engineering

Zack Wasson

The confluence of several technological innovations including drones, photogrammetry, and thermal imaging has enabled the development of a novel approach to defect mapping and monitoring for large dams. A pilot project trialling the methodology was completed at a rockfill embankment dam with a concrete spillway and is presented as a potential means of improving the accuracy and reliability of condition monitoring. The pilot project included two main objectives: digital inspection and mapping of defects within the concrete spillway; and drone-based photogrammetric survey of the rockfill embankment. Defect mapping of the concrete spillway utilised drone-based photography and Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry to develop a high-fidelity 3D model, from which visual defects could be identified and mapped in a virtual environment. Thermal infrared (IR) imagery of the structure provided an indication of potential shallow subsurface defects in the concrete. Photogrammetric survey of the embankment structure utilised drone-based photography, SfM photogrammetry and a network of precisely surveyed ground control and verification points to develop a georeferenced point cloud, digital elevation model and elevation contours. The results of the project were delivered via a web-based digital twin which included georeferenced results from defect mapping, aerial survey and tools for visualisation, measurement, and reporting.

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