The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore earlier this year and the I-95 overpass in Philadelphia last June weren’t caused by structural flaws — the culprits were a runaway, powerless ocean liner and a tanker fire. But the disasters were the latest examples of a problem seen in the U.S.: critical — and vulnerable — bridges, roads, dams, trillions of dollars worth of factories, plants and machinery that are rapidly aging and in need of repair.

Substantial amounts of money have been spent to fix the problems, some of which has come from President Biden’s Infrastructure Act and other legislation, but the way infrastructure is maintained has largely not changed, being done mostly slowly by people or after a significant problem such as a leak or collapse occurs.

Gecko Robotics, ranked No. 42 on the CNBC Disruptor 50 list for 2024, is taking on the AI ​​and robotics challenge across the country, specifically with its wall-climbing bots that perform infrastructure inspections and not just identify existing problems, but also try to anticipate what can be done to avoid future problems.

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“When you think about the built world, a lot of concrete, a lot of metal that is, especially in the U.S., 60 to 70 years old; we as a country have a D rating for infrastructure and getting it to a B is a $4 trillion to $6 trillion problem,” Gecko Robotics CEO Jake Lusararian told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. “A big part of that is figuring out what to fix and then targeting those fixes, and then making sure they don’t keep making the same mistakes.”

Gecko Robotics’ technology is already being used to monitor “500,000 of the world’s most critical assets,” Luzararian said, which range from oil and gas facilities and pipelines to boilers and tanks in manufacturing facilities.

Focus on military equipment, from submarines to aircraft carriers

Gecko robots are increasingly being used by the US military. In 2022, the US Air Force awarded Gecko Robotics a contract to help convert missile silos. Last year, the US Navy selected the company to help modernize the manufacturing process of its Columbia-class nuclear submarine program, using Gecko’s robots to perform weld inspections.

Gecko Robotics also works with the Navy to inspect aircraft carriers, which Loosararian demonstrated on CNBC through a demonstration of the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that now serves as a museum in New York.

He compared the analysis Gecko Robotics does on the infrastructure to a CAT scan of a human body, while creating a digital twin of the scanned object.

These inspections have historically been performed by workers collecting thousands of readings aboard an aircraft carrier. The Gecko Robotics technology can collect more than 20 million data points in a tenth of the time, Loosararian said.

“There’s human error, and if you’re hanging off the side of a ship, it’s also quite dangerous,” he said.

There are also issues related to the timeliness of military build-up and defense readiness in an unpredictable world of global threats. For example, Luzararian said China builds ships 232 times faster than the US, a function of the vast amount of shipbuilding capacity China now has by comparison.

“One-third of our Navy ships are in dry dock right now, and you want them out of dry dock or even out of a maintenance cycle,” Luzararian said. “What we’re doing with Lidar and ultrasonic sensors is a health scan to see what the damage is and how to fix it, because what we’re trying to do is get these ships from dry dock to the seas to patrol as much as possible – quickly.”

Digital twins created by Gecko robots also help build future projects, saving not only time but resources and capital.

“It’s not just about how things work every day, but how to build smarter things,” Luzararian said.” If we can understand what fails in the real world, then we can understand how to build smarter things in the future.”

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Co-founder and CEO of Gecko Robotics for AI-powered data and critical infrastructure