Utilizing Drones to Survey Elephant Butte Dam - Aging Infrastructure and Safety

Project ID: 6015
Principal Investigator: Mike Landis
Research Topic: Condition Assessment
Funded Fiscal Years: 2015
Keywords: drone, safetly, remote controlled inspection

Research Question

Can remotely controlled drones be utilized to photograph and scan Elephant Butte Dam for inspection purposes? The implementation of drones allows for High Definition Visual, Infrared, Hyperspectral Imaging, Lidar and other selected frequencies to inspect this dam which will soon be a century old. Multiple sensors and platforms can be employed negating the need for inspectors to precariously scale the face of the dam and otherwise place themselves in dangerous situations. If such a program proves successful at Elephant Butte, it should easily be incorporated into Reclamation's Safety of Dams program. Beyond the scope of dam and facility inspections, such a program could be expanded to river and watershed surveys for riparian habitat, sedimentation, flood flows and more.

Need and Benefit

The frequency and coverage of inspections could be greatly increased under this program. The drones allow for coverage of areas difficult to access and/or inspect. By their nature, flying platforms can view dams, rivers, etc. from a variety of angles and perspectives not possible previously. The design life of some of our dams has already been exceeded. As our infrastructure ages, it would be beneficial to step up our inspections and using unmanned vehicles seems an expedient, economic, and safe way conducting inspections. This does not replace or take away from the existing Safety of Dams program, but is intended to enhance the current system.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

A scoping document will be submitted for public viewing.


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Last Updated: 4/4/17