MDOT deploys unique technology to inspect underwater infrastructure

The EMILY unmanned boat helps Michigan Department of Transportation engineers assess...
The EMILY unmanned boat helps Michigan Department of Transportation engineers assess underwater infrastructure. (WJRT)
Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 6:50 PM EDT
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(6/2/2020) - The Michigan Department of Transportation is using unique technology to help assess underwater damage and come up with plans for repairs.

Work is well under way repairing the U.S. 10 bridges over the Tittabawassee River in Sanford. While the construction on the road is just a piece of the puzzle, the big questions are, what is under this water? What is the damage?

With the help of EMILY, MDOT is able to answer that question.

"We can see if there is debris, so if I'm getting in the water and diving I can see areas I need too avoid in the water if there's a tree and I don't want to get tangled up," said bridge and design manager Casey Collings.

Before sending divers into the water, MDOT and the Great Lakes Engineering Firm used EMILY -- a small unmanned boat-- to inspect what they couldn't see with their eyes.

"We would be guessing and Id be down underwater feeling and talking on a com box trying to figure out what's going on," Collings said.

EMILY uses cameras and sonar technology to see what's is under the water below U.S. 10.

"It helps us to properly plan a dive," said MDOT Bay Region Bridge Engineer Paul Schiefer. "So this kind of ensures that Great Lakes can get into the water and avoid any debris that may be present and use that EMILY device to make preliminary judgments."

Divers say even in he best case scenarios, there isn't much they can see in what's left of Sanford Lake.

"If there's issues that we need to dive or if there is no footing exposure we can clearly see that, so we don't have to put a diver in the water and it's safer," Collings said.

Every bit of data collected from EMILY is used to determine a rehabilitation plan for these structures and is able to be reviewed anytime throughout the process.

EMILY was critical for the inspections along M-46 and will be used for more inspections across the state.