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407 ETR, Mohawk College collaboration using drones for inspections

407 ETR is working with Mohawk College's Unmanned and Remote Sensing Innovation Centre (URSIC) to test safer and more efficient ways of conducting visual inspections of it's overhead structures. CNW Group/407 ETR Concession Company Limited

A team with a Hamilton, Ont. regional hub advancing drone technology has taken on a gig putting unmanned aircraft in the air to conduct visual inspections of 407 ETR structures while traffic passes underneath.

Lead researcher for Mohawk College‘s Unmanned and Remote Sensing Innovation Centre (URSIC) Richard Borger says in recent months they’ve flown drones over medians and to the side of the 108 kilometre toll highway to complete structural checks.

“We’re not actually flying directly over live lanes … hovering there and being a distraction to traffic,” Borger told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

The collaboration started in October as a pilot and conducts signage and gantry inspections using the college’s highly trained operators and high resolution cameras.

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Future roles are expected to see examinations expand into bridges and even map the capacity of stormwater ponds along the corridor using sonar.

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The idea is to reduce job hazards for ETR staffers who conduct inspections at “significant heights” across 236 bridges, 230 overhead signs and 204 gantry systems with plate and transponder readers.

“I’m optimistic the research done with Mohawk College will result in new and innovative ways of doing this work more safely,” Tony Angelo, Director of Bridges at 407 ETR said in a release.

Borger says they got the job after OPP recommended the 407 reach out to the URSIC.

Students are getting hands-on experience as the ground crews and drone camera operators for the initiative which expects to improve the 407’s inspection efficiency allowing for additional checks during winter months.

“So we work directly beside the structural engineering team and we fly the drone and the bridge engineer will actually manipulate the cameras while it’s on the drone,” Borger explained.

“What they’re looking for are bolts that have actually backed off, unexpected corrosion and essentially the health and status of the overall structure.”

Mohawk’s URSIC is also involved in a three-year pilot program with Transport Canada providing space to fly drones across Hamilton’s Windermere Basin beside Eastport Drive.

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That collaboration supports research projects in an uncontrolled airspace to validate inventions seeking Transport Canada’s approval as they start coming to market.

URSIC currently undertakes research and testing of industrial-grade robotics and drones with a number of organizations associated with transportation infrastructure, including the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority, the City of Hamilton and local railways.

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