Robotics & Informatics for Geotechnical Systems

Brief description

Recent advances in robotics and informatics pave new directions for our society and are destined to impact the entire breadth of geotechnical engineering practice and research, including the way we characterize, design, monitor and perceive risk of geotechnical systems. Robotic platforms provide an opportunity for spatially-distributed, mobile, data-driven sensing that allow for optimized monitoring on locations that are most critical to focus on and with the appropriate types of measurements. Land-based, floating, underwater, or aerial robotic platforms have not only unprecedented sensing capabilities, but also outstanding, untapped, computational capabilities that can promote data fusion and lead to better characterization of the interaction of geosystems with the environment. Robotic platforms are bringing quickly big data to geotechnical engineering. My research work has been focusing on the use of these unprecedented capabilities to promote resiliency and sustainability of geotechnical infrastructure systems.

Video Gallery

Using drones to map methane in landfills

Paving the way for the capture and use of methane, University of Michigan researchers can pin down concentrations of the gas in landfills using autonomous drones equipped with lasers. Traditionally, the EPA requires landfills to use surface measurements, where a person walks and takes methane concentration measurements at certain intervals across an entire landfill and this data is used for compliance only. The new method could offer greater precision and reduce the time and effort required, and generate data that can help us understand the ongoing biodegradation processes in the landfill.

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Satellites to Map Fault Rupture and Landslides Following the Kaikoura 2016 earthquake in New Zealand

story and a video of our work to map ground failure caused by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck New Zealand’s South Island on Nov. 13, 2016. Using satellite stereo-imagery, our team created 3D geometries of an area that is approximately equal to the State of South Carolina and compared the results with Ultra-High Resolution imagery from UAVs

Use of Drones to Map Landslides following the Gorkha 2015 earthquake in Nepal

More than 20,000 landslides took place in Nepal during the Mw 7.8 Gorkha earthquake on April 25th 2015 . This video describes the landslide mapping efforts of researchers from the University of Michigan (Dr. Marin Clark, and Dr. Dimitrios Zekkos), University of Southern California (Dr. Josh West) in the US and Tribhuhan University (Dr. Deepak Chamlagain) in Nepal. The research team used drones and photogrammetry principles to view map and create 3D models of large rock slides, debris flows and even rockfalls. The drone was particularly needed in this case, because of the steep topography and the large size and runout length of some of the landslides, that made it nearly impossible to map otherwise. Video prepared by staff.

Drones and Natural Disasters

Outreach video explaining our research focus on the use of drones in post-earthquake reconnaissance. Developed by the University of Michigan College of Engineering (MCONNEX).

Unprocessed Drone-based Video Footage Following the 2015 Lefkada Earthquake

Raw Data video of reconnaissance following the Mw 6.4 earthquake that occurred near Lefkada island in Greece, on November 17th 2015. Our team deployed within less than 48 hrs following the earthquake and collected drone-based video footage of affected areas. The UAAV successfully by-passed roads that were closed by landslides and other damaged infrastructure that impacted accessibility. Footage was released immediately following UAAV deployment to make available data and footage that may prove valuable to first responders, engineers, rescue operators and damage assessors.


Journal Papers

  • Greenwood, W., Lynch, J., Zekkos, D. (2019). Applications of UAVs in Civil Infrastructure, Infrastructure Systems, J. Infrastruct. Syst., 2019, 25(2): 04019002.
  • Zekkos, D., Greenwood, W., Manousakis, J., Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Clark, M., Cook, K.L. and Saroglou, C. (2018). Lessons Learned from the Application of UAV-Enabled Structure-From-Motion Photogrammetry in Geotechnical Engineering. International Journal of Geoengineering Case Histories, Vol.4, Issue 4, p.254-274. doi:10.4417/IJGCH-04-04-03
  • Saroglou, H., Asteriou, P., Zekkos, D., Tsiambaos, G., Clark, M., Manousakis, J. (2018) “UAV-enabled reconnaissance and trajectory modeling of a co-seismic rockfall in Lefkada”, Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 18(1):321-333. DOI: 10.5194/nhess-18-321-2018
  • Zekkos, D., Clark, M., Whitworth, M., Greenwood, W., West, J., Roback, K., Li, G., Chamlagain, D., Manousakis, J., Quackenbush, P., Medwedeff, W., Lynch, J., (2017). Observations of landslides caused by the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal based on land, UAV and satellite reconnaissance. Earthquake Spectra, 33(S1), S95–S114, December 2017; DOI: 10.1193/121616EQS237M.

Conference Papers

  • Champagne, C. L., Zekkos, D., Lynch, J. P., and O’Loughlin, S. (2020) Waste Settlement Measurements using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles at a Municipal Solid Waste Landfill in Michigan, Geocongress 2020 (accepted). 
  • Kallimogiannis, V., Saroglou, H., Zekkos, D., and Manousakis, J. (2019) 2D and 3D Back-analysis of a landslide in Egremnoi caused by the November 17 2015 Lefkada earthquake. 2nd International Conference on Natural Hazards and Infrastructure, 23-26 June 2019, Chania, Greece.
  • Zekkos, D., Tsavalas-Hardy, A., Mandilaras, G., and Tsantilas, K. (2019) Using social media to assess earthquake impact on people and infrastructure: Examples from earthquakes in 2018. 2nd International Conference on Natural Hazards and Infrastructure, 23-26 June 2019, Chania, Greece. 
  • Saroglou, H., Kalimogiannis, V., Bar, N., Manousakis, J., and Zekkos, D. (2019) Analysis of slope instabilities in the Corinth Canal using UAV-enabled mapping 2nd International Conference on Natural Hazards and Infrastructure, 23-26 June 2019, Chania, Greece.
  • Zhou, H., Lynch, J., Zekkos, D. (2019). Vision-based Precision Localization of UAVs for Sensor Payload Placement and Pickup for Field Monitoring Applications, Sensors and Smart Structures Technologies for Civil, Mechanical, and Aerospace Systems, March 2019.DOI: 10.1117/12.2516049
  • Zekkos, D., Clark, M., Willis, M., Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Manousakis, J., Knoper, L., Stahl, T., Massey, C., Archibald, G., Greenwood, W., and Medwedeff, W. (2018a). 3D models of the Leader Valley using satellite & UAV imagery following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, Eleventh U.S. National Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Integrating Science, Engineering & Policy, June 25-29, 2018, Los Angeles, California. 
  • Zekkos, D., Manousakis, J., Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Clark, M., Knoper, L., Massey, C., Archibald, G., Greenwood, W., Hemphill-Haley, M., Rathje, E., Litchfield, N., Medwedeff, W., Van Dissen, R.J., Ries, W., Villamor, P., Langridge, R.M., and Kearse, J. (2018b). Structure-from-Motion based 3D mapping of landslides & fault rupture sites during 2016 Kaikoura earthquake reconnaissance, Eleventh U.S. National Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Integrating Science, Engineering & Policy, June 25-29, 2018, Los Angeles, California.
  • Greenwood, W., Zhou, H., Zekkos, D., Lynch, J. (2018). “Experiments using a UAV-Deployed Impulsive Source for Multichannel Analysis of Surface Waves Testing.” Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics V, June 10-13 2018, Austin, TX. 
  • Saroglou, C., Asteriou, P., Tsiambaos, G., Zekkos, D., Clark, M. (2017). Investigation of two co‐seismic rockfalls during the 2015 Lefkada and 2014 Cephalonia Earthquakes in Greece, 3rd North American Symposium on Landslides, June 4-8 2017, Roanoke, Virginia, USA, 521-528.  
  • Zekkos, D., Clark, M., Cowell, K., Medwedeff, W., Manousakis, J, Saroglou, H., Tsiambaos, G. (2017) Satellite and UAV-enabled mapping of landslides caused by the November 17th 2015 Mw 6.5 Lefkada earthquake, 19th International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, 17-22 September 2017, Seoul, South Korea.
  • Greenwood, W., Zekkos, D., Lynch, J., Clark, M. (2017). Data Fusion of Digital Imagery and Seismic Surface Waves for a Rock Road Cut in Hawaii. 3rd International Conference on Performance-based Design in Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering, July 16-19 2017, Vancouver.
  • Manousakis, J., Zekkos, D., Saroglou, F., and Clark, M.(2016). “Comparison of UAV-enabled photogrammetry-based 3D point clouds and interpolated DSMs of sloping terrain for rockfill hazard analysis.” Intern. Arch. Photogramm. Remote Sens. Spatial Inf. Sci., XLII-2/W2, 71-77, doi:10.5194/isprs-archives-XLII-2-W2-71-2016, 2016.
  • Greenwood, W., Zekkos, D., Lynch J., and Bateman, J., Clark, M., and Chamlagain, D., 2016.“UAV-Based 3-D Characterization of Rock Masses and Rock Slides in Nepal.” 50th US Rock Mechanics/Geomechanics Symposium, American Rock Mechanics Association, Houston, TX, 26-29 June 2016.
  • Zekkos, D., Manousakis, J., Greenwood, W., and Lynch, J. D. (2016). “Immediate UAV-enabled infrastructure reconnaissance following recent natural disasters: Case Histories from Greece”. 1st International Conference on Natural Hazards and Infrastructure, 28-30 June 2016, Chania, Greece.
  • Greenwood, W., Zhou, H., Lynch, J. P., and Zekkos, D. (2016). “UAV-Deployed Impulsive Source Localization with Sensor Network”, Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Smart and Multifunctional Materials, Structures and Systems (CIMTEC 2016), Perugia, Italy.
  • Zhou, H., Hirose, M., Greenwood, W., Xiao, Y., Lynch, J., Zekkos, D., Kamat, V. 2016 “Demonstration of UAV deployment and control of mobile wireless sensing networks for modal analysis of structures“, Proc. SPIE 9803, Sensors and Smart Structures Technologies for Civil, Mechanical, and Aerospace Systems 2016, 98031X (April 20, 2016); doi:10.1117/12.2223441;
  • Bateman, J., Zekkos, D., Olson, E., Messenger, S., Kershaw, C., Fei, X., and Lynch, J. (2016) Preliminary Observations from Robot-Enabled Surface Methane Concentration Monitoring at a MSW Landfill. Geo-Chicago 2016: pp. 740-749. doi: 10.1061/9780784480168.072
  • Hirose, M., Xiao, Y.,Zuo, Z., Kamat, V. R., Zekkos, D. and Lynch, J. (2015). “Implementation of UAV Localization Methods for a Mobile Post-Earthquake Monitoring System.” Environmental, Energy and Structural Monitoring Systems, July 9-10, 2015, Trento, Italy.
  • Zekkos, D. and Lynch, J., Sahadewa, A., Hiroshi, M. (2014). “Proof-of-Concept Shear Wave Velocity Measurements Using an Unmanned Autonomous Aerial Vehicle,” Geocongress 2014, Atlanta, Georgia, February 23-26 2014, 953-962.

Magazine Articles

  • Zekkos, D., Greenwood, W., Manousakis, J., Lynch, J. (2016). The Rise of UAVs signals A New Era In Geotechnics, Geo-Strata Magazine, September-October issue, 72-77.


The Use of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Post-Disaster Geotechnical Reconnaissance

Webinar as part of the webinars established by the Geotechnical Engineering Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) Association, delivered with colleague Prof. Kevin Franke from Bringham Young University on April 20th 2016.

Students Involved


Cassandra Champagne
Hao Zhou


Julie Bateman
Gabe Draughon


Theau Heral
UROP, Fall 2014 – Winter 2015
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