Safe public infrastructure… for life

European researchers have developed a wireless sensor system to monitor the safety of large infrastructure. The new system will not only potentially save lives when the structure is old, it is reducing costs during construction, too.

Building structures can be affected by earthquake, landslides or construction defects from a previous era. But collapses in infrastructures, sometimes tragically resulting in deaths, can be avoided in future if early-warning sensors are placed on them right from the start.

The challenge of safeguarding major infrastructures – especially those used intensively by the public, such as bridges or historic monuments – led researchers in the EU-funded GENESI project to design a wireless sensor network (WSN) for monitoring structural health.

‘You want sensors to work for the whole lifetime of the structure, which could be tens or hundreds of years,’ explained coordinator Professor Chiara Petrioli, of La Sapienza University in Rome. ‘This was the technical challenge before us. But we also found we could deploy the sensor networks in construction works, to make design amendments if necessary and safeguard workers on the project.’

Compared to existing technology, GENESI’s sensor networks are non-intrusive and cheap to deploy and maintain. Being battery-driven, they are also suitable for remote areas with no electricity supply and can be used when the power grid is down, such after an earthquake. … (read more)