As a report from the Obama administration warns that one in four bridges in the United States needs significant repair or cannot handle automobile traffic, Tufts University engineers are employing wireless sensors and flying robots that could have the potential to help authorities monitor the condition of bridges in real time.
Today, bridges are inspected visually by teams of engineers who dangle beneath the bridge on cables or look up at the bridge from an elevated work platform. It is a slow, dangerous, expensive process and even the most experienced engineers can overlook cracks in the structure or other critical deficiencies.
A New Monitoring System for Bridges
In the detection system being developed by Babak Moaveni, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts School of Engineering, smart sensors are attached permanently to bridge beams and joints. Each sensor can continuously record vibrations and process the recorded signal. Changes in the vibration response can signify damage, he says.
Moaveni, who received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research, is collaborating with Tufts Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Usman Khan to develop a wireless system that would use autonomous flying robots (quad-copters) to hover near the sensors and collect data while taking visual images of bridge conditions. The drone-like robots would transmit data to a central collection point for analysis. Khan received a $400,000 Early Career Award from the NSF earlier this year to explore this technology, which requires addressing significant navigational and communications challenges before it could be a reliable inspection tool. … (Read more)