University of California San Diego

Inspection of Earthquake and Fire Damaged Buildings using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

A six-story light gauge steel building was constructed on the University of California’s Outdoor shake table.  The table was subjected to multiple earthquake shaking and fire tests.  A third objective was added to this project that will ultimately lead to faster and more accurate inspection of earthquake damaged structures.

UAV imaging techniques were used to provide up-close, real-time data before, during and after the shaking and fire tests.  Information gathered via UAV can benefit stakeholders, engineers, incident commanders and first responders, while increasing public safety.  For this project, small, lightweight, multi-rotor UAVs were deployed to first carry out a complete, semi-autonomous site survey mapping to create a 3D model of the building, and for subsequent fire tests, record the thermal envelop (heat-map) of the entire building.

The project objectives were the following:

–study and test field deployable UAVs

–study communication techniques and protocols for UAV data transmission

–identify how UAV data may enhance situation awareness

–explore how to apply and implement the data products

–study how 3D models developed can support the inspection of damaged buildings

The results of this study could lead to post-disaster field teams having the ability to inspect damage, by capturing site-specific data from a broad range of perspectives.  This data can be streamed to field centers, where it is processed into a 3D model that can be broadly shared with other stakeholders for analysis. UAVs operating semi or fully autonomously, continuously collecting data suitable to detect and assess short and long-term deterioration, measuring damage and observing structural weaknesses, faster, cheaper and safer than possible with existing techniques could be  invaluable in helping damaged communities recover more rapidly.

This project was completed in the spring of 2017.