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As unmanned aerial systems technology has evolved, the extent of applications for drones has expanded into numerous fields, including pollution monitoring, search-and-rescue operations, etc. Marine inspection is one of the applications. Since UAVs are capable of visually capturing the exterior surface of naval ships, this data could be used to develop 3D digital models designed for the identification of damage, corrosion, and alignment issues.

A research regarding the use of UAVs to enhance maintenance and fleet readiness for the U.S. Navy has been carried out by the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division California (NSWC PHD) in collaboration with industry partner Aerial Alchemy.

The two parties have formalized partnership efforts through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). This project is part of NSWC PHD’s ongoing Naval Innovative Science and Engineering research focused on innovative technologies and solutions. The Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 allows warfare centers and research laboratories to collaborate with industry and academic in research, engineering and technology development, according to dvidshub.net.

NSWC PHD Commanding Officer, Capt. Ray Acevedo, said: “Industry and academia are on the cutting edge of technology and are able to quickly advance these systems, allowing us to provide critical capabilities to the fleet.”

“Our ability as in-service engineers to support the fleet currently requires extensive on-site personnel in order to identify configuration, damage, corrosion, and other mechanical issues,” said Alan Jaeger, NSWC PHD Office of Research and Technology Applications manager.

Several classification societies, including Lloyd’s Register and DNV GL, have tested UAVs as remote inspection devices and have started to introduce them to their survey methodologies for bulk carriers and container ships.

A key advantage of using drones is making inspections safer. Surveying tanks and confined spaces on board ships can be a risky enterprise, with enclosed cargo holds known to contain noxious and flammable gases. Cargo tanks can sometimes be filled with water during a process known as rafting, which presents an obvious danger to anyone carrying out inspections inside the tanks, according to ship-technology.com.

Marine equipment technology specialist Martek Marine supplies drones for a range of applications, including tank and external vessel inspections. The company’s UAV survey solution combines enclosed space drone technology with HD and infrared cameras. Wrapped in a distinctive carbon fibre cage, Martek’s collision-tolerant UAV is dust, splash and bump resistant, meaning it can be used to safely access confined spaces.