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New WiFi Keeps Watch on Infrastructure

Monday, March 9, 2015

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Multinational research in Europe has produced a new generation of cheap, wireless, early-warning sensors that could help head off infrastructure catastrophes, its developers say.

By monitoring structural health with wireless sensor networks, major infrastructure can be safeguarded from the start of construction throughout the structure's lifespan, according to the developers of GENESI: Green sEnsor NEtworks for Structural monItoring.

The European Union-funded project has already been tested on a metro line and bridge, and plans are underway for additional testing.

GENESI
Photos: genesi.di.uniroma1.it

EU-funded GENESI consists of wireless sensor networks that are non-intrusive and battery-operated. The technology has been tested on a metro line and a bridge.

Developers say the technology could prove especially valuable on major structures used intensively by the public, such as bridges or historic monuments.

Non-Intrusive, Cheap

"You want sensors to work for the whole lifetime of the structure, which could be tens or hundreds of years," explained Chiara Petrioli, the project's coordinator and a professor at the Sapienza University in Rome.

"This was the technical challenge before us. But we also found we could deploy the senor networks in construction works, to make design amendments if necessary and safeguard workers on the project."

The sensor networks are non-intrusive and cheap to deploy and maintain compared to existing technology, according to researchers.

The battery-operated technology can be used in remote areas with no electricity and in areas where the power grid is down, such as after an earthquake.

Tunnel Testing

The technology has been successfully tested on the new B1 metro line in Rome and the Pont de la Poya bridge in Switzerland.

GENESI
©GENESI via CORDIS

In Rome, sensors were placed in concrete segments of a tunnel lining and deployed directly next to the boring machine to measure strain, temperature and deformation.

For the metro line, sensors were placed in concrete segments of the tunnel's lining and deployed directly next to the tunnel-boring machine to measure real-time parameters such as strain, temperature and deformation.

Engineers and geologists were able to monitor data via proprietary low-power protocols, 3G and Internet. This allowed them to check if drilling was being performed with the utmost safety of workers and passengers in mind.

According to researchers, the network is "simpler, quicker and cheaper to install and maintain than traditional cable-connected sensor systems and, in pursuit of long-lasting energy-efficient monitoring of the tunnel when in operation, it is partly powered by micro turbines spinning in the gusts of passing trains."

Monitoring Movement

As for the bridge, about 25 sensors installed during construction measured paramenters such as the pull on the pylons, bearing displacement, and wind, temperature and water levels.

"It proved very useful, because there always are a lot of uncertainties in design, planning and construction," said Holger Wörsching, an engineer with Solexperts AG, a Swiss measurement company and partner in GENESI.

"When the bridge was shifted to connect both sides, we got feedback on deformation and bending and could check the loads were right."

Ongoing Work

The technology is also being used in an access tunnel for a hydro plant in Innertkirchen, Switzerland, and on an Alpine railway line that is vulnerable to landslides.

According to researchers, the network is "simpler, quicker and cheaper to install and maintain than traditional cable-connected sensor systems and, in pursuit of long-lasting energy-efficient monitoring of the tunnel when in operation, it is partly powered by micro turbines spinning in the gusts of passing trains."

Wsense, a spin-off company from the project, is also exploring how to use a miniature version of GENESI in public heritage sites in Italy.

A version is also helping Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage transport priceless works of art between museums.

Project Partners

The project involved seven partners in four countries:

  • The Sapienza University of Rome, Italy;
  • University of Twenty, the Netherlands;
  • University of Bologna, Italy;
  • STMicroelectronics, Switzerland;
  • Tyndall National Institute, Ireland;
  • Solexperts, Switzerland; and
  • Tre Esse Engineering, Italy.

The European Union funded €2 million ($2.2 million USD) of the project under its Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) framework program for information and communication technologies.

The total cost was €2,996,906 ($3.3 million USD).

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Health and safety; Historic Preservation; Infrastructure; Program/Project Management; Rail; Research; Tunnel

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