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New Robot Designed To Assess Bridge Corrosion

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A new robot was put to the test in Pittsburgh, and it may provide some information about the bridges you drive across every day.

With thousands of bridges in the Pittsburgh region, engineers are constantly looking for better ways to protect and maintain the structures we drive on every day. Now, there's a new robot that may be able to help.

It's called the RABIT Bridge Deck Assessment Tool, and it can do a lot. It's equipped with a panoramic camera, high-def imaging and GPS, plus gear that can determine concrete corrosion and test concrete strength. The RABIT can basically provide a comprehensive diagnostic of a bridge deck.

"We know that trucks cause the decks to deteriorate," Ian Friedland of the Federal Highway Administration said. "We know that weather, water, freezing, salt application can cause steel to corrode. What we want to do is track this over time and then compare it to the different strategies that the states use to maintain their structures."

The robot was created by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Rutgers University. PennDOT leaders had a chance to see the technology in action during a demonstration at the Heidelberg Volunteer Fire Department.

"It has potential, because of all the bridges in the area, to be a better tool for use to help make better decisions about the bridges, what treatments to do on the bridges at an earlier time frame," PennDOT bridge engineer Louis Ruzzi said.

While the robot is out on a bridge collecting information, a crew can sit in a van and monitor their computer screens, gathering the data in real time.

"The current tools that we have, the handheld tools, things like that, are very slow," Friedland said. "In order for us to get the large volume of data we need, to understand how bridges deteriorate over time, we need these better tools."

Currently, the FHWA has two RABITs that are being used on bridges all over the nation. Five more have been ordered. Eventually, the robots will be available for agencies like PennDOT to purchase.

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