US Navy develops corrosion Topside Drone detection system

Topside Drone
Topside Drone

The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research has recently worked with the operator of the retired WWII-era carrier USS Midway to test a drone-based corrosion detection system.

ONR’s fast-prototyping division, TechSolutions, has developed a sensor package and processing system called Topside Drone that can detect corrosion and anomalies on hull surfaces automatically, saving time in surveys. The technology will be used to inspect and detect material defects, corrosion, warping and other forms of deterioration.

In a manner broadly similar to technology under development by ABS, Topside Drone uses visual data and a processing algorithm to detect areas of possible corruption. The drone system flies around the exterior of a ship taking video, infrared footage and LIDAR measurements. The results are used to create a digital model of the ship’s structure and fed into the algorithm for analysis.

The ONR development team wanted a “target-rich environment” to use for testing the drone’s technology. The 1945-built USS Midway is permanently moored in San Diego, where she is open to the public as a museum ship, and operator USS Midway Museum agreed to partner with ONR for a test. During the flight demo, the system’s computer vision algorithm analysed the collected data and revealed significant corrosion all over the vessel.

“Sailors spend a lot of their time looking at different things on the ship, from corrosion to other equipment,” said Dr. Mark Bilinski, Naval Information Warfare Center, Pacific and the integrated project team lead for Topside Drone. “A UAV can go around and take photos of the topside of a ship, collect that data quickly and autonomously, and then the data can be evaluated to identify if corrosion exists.”

ONR set up TechSolutions to quickly develop technological systems to address the needs of deckplate sailors. The group takes suggestions from the fleet and delivers prototype solutions within a year’s time. With Topside Drone, its aim is to give sailors a way to survey large areas rapidly, freeing up their time for other parts of the mission.

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