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Economy

Japan envisions drones, AI inspecting infrastructure

Sensor data and analysis would help plan repairs amid construction squeeze

Camera drones could help the government inspect infrastructure.

TOKYO -- Japan wants drones and artificial intelligence to inspect and maintain worn-down infrastructure, a science council's new guidelines showed Wednesday, as labor dwindles and the coming 2020 Olympics spur construction demand.

In Tokyo's vision, roads and bridges would be mounted with sensors that detect wear and tear, such as creaking, and drones would make regular flyby inspections. Information from those devices would feed into a trove of data on structures' repair history and management status.

The plan is for computers to analyze this data with AI to pick effective repair methods and life-extending measures, helping to lower costs. The government would also conditionally share its data with private businesses.

This "smart" setup would also enhance disaster response. The AI would use sensor and drone input to instantly determine how to restore structures hit by earthquakes or torrential rains, and robots could make repairs or clear debris in dangerous areas. Local municipalities would also gather infrastructure data to quickly inform locals about damage or evacuation measures.

While more of Japan's public works approach the end of their useful life, construction companies are facing a serious labor shortage as demand rises for Olympic-related projects. Even outside metropolitan areas, infrastructure inspections are confronting setbacks.

Tokyo will encourage the public and private sectors to team up on research and development to back its proposal, such as by subsidizing partnerships between construction companies and government research institutions or national universities. It may also ease restrictions to allow planned drone flights for infrastructure inspection purposes.

The Council for Science, Technology and Innovation laid out guidelines for the setup Wednesday as part of a strategic plan for 2017. The plan would advise the government on estimated demand in the science and technology fields for its fiscal 2018 budget.

(Nikkei)

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