New Technology Could Lead to Safer and More Reliable Bridges

The interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis sees a large number of cars every day. About a year and a half ago the structure failed and 13 lives were lost. Now, the university of Michigan along with several other colleges and agencies have come together to design a new system that will provide real time data to the department of transportation that could be used to prevent another accident and save lives.

The system will consist of an array of sensors that will monitor things such as the amount of corrosion on the surface of the bridge and how different loads affect the structure. The team is also planning on employing penetrating radar to locate and monitor cracks that could form on the interior of the bridge structure.
Once the data has been recorded it can sent wirelessly to an onsite technician, or even be sent to an inspector miles away. From there, engineers would be able to review the data and locate and trouble spots that may be forming.

Much of the funding behind the research has been provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Michigan's Department of Transportation has offered the state's bridges to offer as a test bed. Several other private firms have also provided funding to the project as well as private investors.

According to the engineers working on the new system, the biggest problem with tying to inspect the health of today's bridges is we can only see what is on the surface. Inspectors rely almost entirely on how the bridge looks from the outside, while many problems can start on the inside. This new technology could sense changes in vibration and even record how a heavily loaded truck acts on the structure.

The team is planning on commercializing the technology once it has been fully developed and tested.

Business Week