Sensor technology is in a transition phase – Interview with ISN Conference speaker Rob Jansen, TNO

Sensor technology is in a transition phase – Interview with ISN Conference speaker Rob Jansen, TNO

Rob Jansen knows everything there is to know about sensors. For TNO, a major Dutch independent research organization, he specializes in ‘structural health monitoring’, technology to assess the condition of infrastructures and buildings based on sensor data. He also works on developing new sensor technology.

During the upcoming Intelligent Sensor Networks Conference on November 15th at High Tech Campus Eindhoven Rob Jansen will shed his light on how smaller and faster sensors are shaping the landscape of the future.

How has sensor technology changed in the past few years?
“There’s a lot of development with electrical sensors becoming smaller and faster. In my presentation I focus on the role of electromagnetic waves – in other words, light – in sensor technology. At TNO we investigate the use of fiber optics as sensors. Traditionally fibers were used as point-sensors, enabling the measurement of a certain parameter over long distances at the end of the fiber. Nowadays commercial parties offer fibers that have so called Fiber Bragg Gratings burned into them. These gratings act as local point-sensors, so a single fiber cable is comprised of multiple point sensors. There’s also a development where the entire fiber cable is used as one huge sensor by deploying the scatter of light pulses inside the fiber. Scatter occurs when a light signal hits an impurity within the glass of the fiber core. By the way these light pulses are scattered, you’re able to measure temperature and strain [the degree of wear and tear in buildings and structures, red.]. At TNO we’re working on next generation technology to measure changes in chemical concentration along the fiber, which is completely new.”

How will that affect the future?
“You could embed fiber optics acting as sensors into an entire structure, like a bridge or a pipeline. In the future pipelines will be manufactured from composites, which makes it easy to embed fiber. Then you can have a smart pipeline, which can measure things like pressure and temperature, but also the flow and composition of the material inside the pipe. So when a sand containing liquid is transported through the pipe, the fiber sensors can determine the degree of erosion the sand caused by measuring the wear and tear of the pipe wall.”

Why is knowledge about temperature or humidity important for pipelines or bridges?
“If something breaks in a structure like a bridge or a tunnel, it is either because of erosion, corrosion or wear and tear. These degradations happen because of fluctuations in load, temperature, humidity, pressure, etcetera. By measuring these ‘degradation inducers’ you can make predictions about the degree and location of degradation in that particular structure. With a strain sensor you can accurately measure where and how heavily a bridge is loaded, for example. Then you can predict where tears will occur ten years from now. And if you see extreme values in humidity or pH, you know that corrosion is more likely to occur, so you can take precautionary measures.”

The interview was originally published on The Intelligent Sensor Networks Conference is organised by Jakajima, in partnership with High Tech Campus Eindhoven.

Go to High Tech Campus website to read the interview