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UIC researchers use drone technology to better inspect light poles

Researchers at UIC use drones to inspect damaged light poles
Researchers at UIC use drones to inspect damaged light poles 02:55

CHICAGO (CBS) – It's a view of a light pole that's rarely seen, from a drone capturing images from above.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are using the perspective to keep drivers safe from falling poles.

CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot got a first look inside that UIC lab that's trying to address the problem she's been covering for months.

If a light pole, standing 20 feet high, needed to be inspected, a Chicago Department of Transportation worker would need to come out with heavy equipment to inspect it from top to bottom. New research being done shows a drone could be used to do that work instead.

Inside the UIC High Bay Structures Lab, researchers use drone video of a vibration study on an aluminum light pole.

"There is something that hit the light pole," said Didem Ozevin, a UIC civil engineering professor, examining the pole. "It causes a lot of buckling here."

They can see drone views from high above and on the side of the pole. Vibration studies are used to see how a pole moves, to detect the amount of damage it has.

One pole they looked at moves in a circular pattern because of the buckling at the base.

"It doesn't say that it's going to fall, but is says there is some damage on the structure which may require some precautions to be taken," Ozevin said.

Ozevin and a team of her students have been studying light poles donated by a construction company with the help of CDOT.

They use drones in the lab to survey the damage on the light poles. Ozevin said her hope is to have the drone technology to use in a cost-effective way to inspect many light poles at a time around the city all at once.

"The drone can capture the data from hundreds of light poles in one inspection and that also provides some digital data that you can store the information and compare with the next inspection," Ozevin said.

"These are a great example of fundamental types of research that we do and they can impact the day-to-day lives of the citizens of our city," said Lesley Sneed, director of the UIC High Bay Structures Lab.

Ozevin said they've discovered light poles fail primarily, because of wind like one light pole that fell near Roosevelt and Clark and another that fell on top of an SUV at Halsted and Armitage in April.

Research also shows that rust developing on steel light poles can make them even weaker, because the load bearing capacity of a light pole is reduced by the rust.

"Over the years it accumulates, it causes complete section loss as we see right here," Ozevin said.

So what about CDOT using drones to inspect multiple light poles during an inspection? All a CDOT spokesperson would say it they don't currently use drones.

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