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Advances in digital twins will improve bridge inspections

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As digital twins become more advanced and more ubiquitous, artificial intelligence (AI) could offer a solution to the UK’s problem of overdue bridge inspections, according to Bentley’s chief research officer Nabil Abou-Rahme. 

Abou-Rahme told New Civil Engineer that incorporating advanced AI and machine learning into digital twins of infrastructure assets could aid engineers with asset monitoring inspections.

In particular, Abou-Rahme said that bridge inspections will benefit from the technological advances.   

“There absolutely is potential for AI and machine learning to assist in [bridge] inspections,” he said.

He added that AI could assit engineers by detecting faults, or analysing sensor data in real time. 

Bentley director of applied research Zheng Whu said that Bentley was developing AI software that could detect faults in digital twins of infrastructure assets. 

“We have been using AI within digital models for a long time, not people release this, but recently we have been working on AI defect detection, corrosion detection and more,” he said. “We have tested this for tunnels, bridges, pavements, water towers and more and this could be rolled out very soon.” 

Abou-Rahme said it would take time to build confidence in the technology however “people will worry about the safety aspects, you are relying on a system to make decisions, and the way to overcome this is to edge into it, to experiment, to prototype, until we have the level of confidence we need.”  

The advanced tools could help engineers clear the backlog of bridges in the UK with overdue inspections. The latest RAC Foundation bridge condition survey found a worrying trend in delays to safety inspections for council-maintained road bridges, with almost 3,500 in substandard condition.   

Only one in 10 of the 3,500 are likely to be repaired in the next five years, the report found, with both private companies and councils telling New Civil Engineer they are finding it hard to recruit bridge inspection specialists.  

Advances in digital twins are already being adopted in the UK, with Newcastle recently unveiling its city-wide digital twin to monitor infrastructure and population movement, the first of its kind in the world.  

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