NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, MD– Aircraft corrosion will soon be easier to find thanks to redOx, a Department of the Navy (DON) Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR)-funded innovation that combines data collected by drones with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to interpret the data. The redOx team recently was named a 2021 American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) Innovation Award winner at the organization’s Emerging Technology and Innovation Conference. The award recognizes innovations that improve services to citizens and government operations.

redOx has the potential to be a game-changer in the Navy’s fight against corrosion, according to John Sugrim, an electronics engineer with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, who represented Naval Air Systems Command in the effort. “In the Navy alone, corrosion costs are estimated at more than $6 billion each year,” he said. “Traditional corrosion inspections are time consuming, highly manual and dangerous processes requiring maintainers and inspectors to access hard-to-reach places. During this time, aircraft may be taken offline, resulting in additional readiness implications.”

A commercial vessel undergoes an inspection for corrosion using redOx in this orthomosaic photo. The pyramids represent the locations of drone-captured images that redOx analyzes. (Photo courtesy of SBIR partner Simple Technology Solutions.

Built by Simple Technology Solutions under an SBIR contract with the DON Office of Naval Research and in conjunction with sustainment experts on the Navy’s Naval Enterprise Sustainment Technology Team, redOx uses commercially available drones and Google cloud-native computer vision capabilities to give inspectors a bird’s-eye view of corrosion and near-real time actionable data. Instead of sifting through and analyzing thousands of images, redOx prioritizes corrosion instances and locations that are severe and would require human analysis and intervention.

Transitioning from a pilot program to production in six months, redOx detected and analyzed corrosion in aerial images of vessels owned by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Maritime Administration (MARAD) with 90% accuracy and few false positives. MARAD assets will also be used in redOx’s next phase.

Phase II will feature 3D models that point to the exact locations of severe corrosion detected on MARAD vessels or aircraft. Sugrim said this same capability will be used to map and pinpoint areas to abate on naval aviation aircraft. “With the data from DOT vessels, the team is seeking approval to use the drone to gather images of naval aviation assets. Analysts will then ‘train’ redOx’s AI on how to identify corrosion and a team of experts will look at the photos and data to refine how redOx performs the inspection.”

The goal, he explained, is to use redOx to enable condition-based maintenance — repairing aircraft corrosion only when necessary — instead of maintaining aircraft on a predetermined schedule. The data will be critical to building digital twins ? simulations of systems that use data to mirror and predict the activities/performance over the service life of its corresponding physical twin. “With this data, maintainers, artisans and analysts can reduce man-hours, increase safety and better prioritize efforts, ultimately improving readiness and support to the fleet,” he said.

“We are pleased to support the Navy’s efforts to find new ways of identifying and assessing corrosion on aircraft,” said Capt. Doug Harrington, deputy associate administrator Federal Sealift. “Just like aircraft, our maritime fleet sees some of the same corrosion issues, so we were happy to allow the Navy access to some of our vessels as a platform to test their new technology.” redOx’s corrosion detection capability is intended to address corrosion across the DoD on other platforms, such as buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure, as well as in the oil and gas, construction, maritime shipping, and other commercial industries.

A public-private partnership, ACT-IAC is a non-profit educational organization established to improve government through the effective and innovative application of technology and provides a venue where government and industry executives can communicate, collaborate and learn.

The DON SBIR Program was established by Congress in 1982 with a statutory purpose to strengthen the role of innovative small business concerns in Federally-funded research or research and development.

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