Future Drone for Visual Inspection of Civil Infrastructures - Engineering - EPSRC DTP funded PhD Studentship Ref: 2920

About the award

This project is one of a number funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership to commence in September 2018. This project is in direct competition with others for funding; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding.

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018. It will provide research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Please note that of the total number of projects within the competition, up to 15 studentships will be filled.

Dr. Ki Young Koo

Dr. Halim Alwi

Prof. James Brownjohn

Streatham Campus, Exeter.

Project Description
Motivation: Visual inspection on civil infrastructures suffers as a result of the difficulty accessing various parts of such large structures, especially with the high risk of falling for visual inspectors. This naturally makes visual inspection time and labour consuming. Inspection cars specially made for the visual inspection of short-span bridges are used in many countries, but are very expensive, disrupt live traffic, and are not applicable to other types of infrastructures. One important drawback of visual inspection is the subjective and inconsistent judgements by visual inspectors. The same structure is rated to different condition levels by visual inspectors. In addition, visual inspection is limited to the surfaces of infrastructure only. Any changes hidden beneath the surface,  such as tendon tension loss or the corrosion of a reinforced steel bar, are not spotted in visual inspections.

Research Question: The research question of the project is “to what extent could the drone technology, in conjunction with recent advances in computer science and electronic engineering, improve visual inspection practice and civil infrastructure maintenance?”.

This project aims to address the research question by developing a drone system optimally integrated with the latest advances in computer vision, virtual reality and surveying technology. Following this, the drone system will be compared to conventional visual inspection to assess the extent of improvement. 

Research Approach: There are three ideas of development to improve visual inspection significantly. 

The first idea is a “flying visual inspector, meaning the visual inspector flies virtually around a structure of interest by means of the integrated drone system. The system consists of a stereo camera on the drone, a virtual reality headset showing images from the camera to the visual inspector on the ground, and a motion-based remote control system capturing the motions of the visual inspector to control the drone. This system provides the visual inspector instant access to wherever he/she wants to see. This removes the problem of accessibility to the structural parts. In addition,, the problem of inconsistent condition ratings can be significantly reduced using digital photos captured by the drone.

The second idea is a “spider-eyes inspired 3D modelling system” meaning that, while the visual inspector controls the drone, multiple miniature cameras on the drone capture many images simultaneously and create a 3D model where all the images are merged. This idea brings efficiency in managing photo data rather than keeping hundreds or possibly thousands of photo files. Using the known configuration of the multiple cameras, the 3D model is constructed accurately and rapidly.

The third idea is “shape monitoring on infrastructures” to go beyond what visual inspection can do. Any negative change in infrastructures, such as stiffness decrease or tendon tension loss happening beneath the surface will increase deformation. By monitoring the original shape of the structure, we will be able to see beyond the visual inspection by detecting such a negative change. The shape information in a 3D model constructed using the spider-eyes drone is not accurate enough for shape monitoring. To this end, the state of the art surveying equipment can be combined into the drone system to greatly improve the accuracy of the 3D model. The drone is equipped with a reflector and is tracked by the state of the art surveying equipment (i.e. total station). Then the drone’s positions from the surveying equipment can be combined into the 3D modelling process to achieve a significantly better estimate on the 3D model.

Entry Requirements
You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Civil, Electrical, Mechanical Engineering or Computer Science. Experience in Structural Engineering is desirable.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes.  If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs. To be eligible for fees-only funding you must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU.  For information on EPSRC residency criteria click here.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are NOT eligible for funding. International students interested in studying at the University of Exeter should search our funding database for alternative options.


Application deadline:10th January 2018
Value:3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,553 per year.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral Collegepgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk

How to apply

You will be required to upload the following documents:
•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim
        transcript if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 10 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in late February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email: pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.