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In an effort to prevent deadly accidents like the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, a project led by the University of Michigan is developing various sensing systems that will eventually lead to the development of "smart bridges." Most bridge monitoring today is done visually. Unfortunately, this type of human inspection is often unable to determine the structural health of a bridge with regards to the effects of corrosion, heavy loads, or vibrations on the structure over time.

The new five-year project, with a price tag of $19 million, will develop a sophisticated infrastructure monitoring system to be installed on several test bridges. The innovative systems include electrically-conductive concrete (changes in conductivity along the span would signal a weakness), wireless nodes to monitor unusual vibrations, and a nanotube-based "sensing skin" to detect cracks and corrosion. Sensor-laden vehicles would also travel the bridge to measure the span's reaction to heavy loads.

The real-time monitoring is beneficial, but there are more wide-scale plans for the technology. Jerome Lynch, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says that if the program were to be rolled-out nationwide, researchers would be able to make statistical comparisons between bridges. This type of data would help engineers develop safer spans to prevent future disasters.

[Source: University of Michigan, image by UMTRI)

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      i like turtles
      • 6 Years Ago
      The condition of the I35W bridge in Mpls was known, but nothing was done about it. This system won't change that.

      Bring me a TCO analysis of this system vs inspectors alone (I assume they can't go away completely). If it makes sense, let's go for it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Why do I fear that states will use this technology as an excuse to hire fewer civil engineers?
      • 6 Years Ago
      I work and live less than a mile from the Saint Anthony Falls Bridge (new I35 bridge) and this is nothing new. As previous posts have pointed out, this technology has been around and in use for years. It's already in use on the new I-35 bridge.

      So basically this article should be entitled "Wolverine comes out from under bridge wreck, sees shadow, announces old but shinier warning system"