CONECTech Lab Awarded Grants to Lead Drone Research

Drone equipped with advanced sensors sitting over cracked pavement.
Photo: School of Building Construction CONECTech Lab
Drones equipped with advanced sensors can analyze infrastructure deficiencies such as pavement cracking.

By Tia Jewell

The CONECTech Lab, part of the Georgia Tech School of Building Construction, received $603,000 in grants from The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), and the Georgia Tech College of Design to improve transportation infrastructures. 

Associate Professor Javier Irizarry, the director of CONECTech Lab, will lead research in four Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) application projects within the built environment. He will work closely with faculty from the Schools of ArchitectureCivil and Environmental Engineering, and Aerospace Engineering on the projects.

GDOT and the College of Design funded testing  of drones equipped with advanced sensors. The research will integrate thermal cameras, ground-penetrating radar (GPR), and LiDAR to collect and analyze datasets using computer-vision techniques. The goal is to enhance GDOT's capabilities to semi-autonomously identify potential streetscape infrastructure failures and assess contractor performance when repairing or maintaining transportation infrastructure assets.

Project Co-PIs include Assistant Professor Tarek Rakha, the High Performance Building Lab (HPBL) Director at the School of Architecture, and Yong K. Cho, the Robotics and Intelligent Construction Automation Lab (RICAL) Director at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

Rakha, an expert in quality and performance assessment of critical infrastructures, will monitor the deterioration and microclimatic effects using non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques. Cho will apply his expertise in construction robotics and image processing.

The DOD and the NSF support Irizarry’s exploration of UAS transportation logistics at construction sites. The team includes researchers from the School of Aerospace Engineering and industry partner, optimAero. They will participate in the NSF I-CORPS program, allowing the team to assess drones' commercial and logistical usage.  

Irizarry’s latest grants continue a long tradition of UAS research at Georgia Tech, specifically for built environment applications. The work is a signature part of the School of Building Construction’s push for “Construction 4.0” and ongoing technological advancement in the construction industry.

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