The 2007 bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed into the Mississippi River claimed the lives of thirteen people. In 2010, the Federal Highway Administration characterized more than 11 percent of highway bridges – almost 70,000 – “structurally deficient,” implying that the bridges had significant defects requiring major improvements or replacement. Unfortunately, bridge repairs and inspections are extremely costly and often get pushed aside. This disaster has made researchers determined to develop new technology to monitor the safety and health of bridges in America.
One of the projects underway by University of Maryland researchers has been tested on nearby Interstate 495 for the past two years, achieving great results. Mehdi Kalantari, a research engineer at the University of Maryland and the head of this project claims that the sensors, “can detect problems including strains, cracks, deformation, vibration, temperature and humidity – all aspects of bridge health.”
Kalantari leads one of two engineering teams at Maryland addressing the need. Working at the university's Mtech incubator, Kalantari has taken an entrepreneurial route, developing a system of tiny, long-lasting, energy-efficient, low-maintenance wireless sensors and software that analyzes real-time data collected. His startup, Resensys, has manufactured systems for use in the private sector and for testing by Maryland State Highway officials.
Another University of Maryland engineering team - supported by federal and state funding and working with researchers from North Carolina State University and URS Corp. - is working on a total "smart bridge" package with multiple technology innovations. Their Integrated Structural Health Monitoringsystem is not yet available commercially. But, key elements of this system are being tested by Maryland State Highway officials, the Maryland Transportation Authority and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
"Wireless technology definitely makes bridge structural health monitoring more efficient and more effective," says UMD civil and environmental engineering research professor Chung Fu, director of Maryland's Bridge Engineering Software & Technology Center and one of the leaders of this second research group.
"If the prices for system hardware and software are further reduced and standardized, we may see more widespread application in the next five to 10 years," Fu says, adding that he has seen great advancement in this technology in the past decade.
August 9, 2012