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Research: Smartphones Used to Track Bridge Health

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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A Southern Methodist University researcher, working in collaboration with local Texas high school students, has continued to make progress in using smartphones as a way to monitor bridge health. Researchers at the University of Alberta are also working with the technology.

SMU professor Brett Story’s research largely focuses around the bridge located in Briarwood, which was built in 1954. In collaborating with local high school students, Story uses information gathered by smartphones in passing cars to get a read on how the bridge is holding up.

Smartphone Bridge Evaluation

Story, who does not think that this method could replace the traditional inspection that takes place every two years, is using the information to read for cracks and uneven foundation settling that could damage the bridge over time. Inspections, which may necessitate bridge closure, can occur every six months if there are concerns about the structure, however.

In turn, the appeal of collecting data from smartphones about the bridge’s health is that the structure would be functionally monitored all the time. The key to collecting this data is found in a smartphone’s accelerometer, which gauges how quickly something is moving. The data yielded from driving over a bridge connects directly with the structure’s vibrations: A damaged structure vibrates at a different frequency, Story told The Dallas Morning News.

Mustafa Gül, a professor at the University of Alberta, also noted that the concept for this technology has been around for a couple of years, but was now being made into a reality. Gül published his own research on this technology last year in Structural Health Monitoring, but the bridges used were largely in Edmonton, not far from the university. Gül also hopes to expand the data gathered to anyone who is willing to participate in sharing their data for bridge monitoring as they travel.

In Texas, what makes the Briarwood bridge special for Story’s experiments is that the structure is composed of more steel than other area bridges, which are composed more with concrete. The steel of the Briarwood bridge makes it flexible, and this makes the structure easier to work with, Story noted. Differentiating between car and bridge vibrations is also its own challenge. Though the concrete-majority structures shouldn’t need a different approach, vibrations will be more difficult to differentiate.

With such endeavors in implementing this technology, Gül maintains that practices like this, among other, similar technologies, will be implemented more by the end of the next decade, an intersection of crowdsourcing and smart infrastructure.

Bridge Inspection Technologies

In late summer, researchers from the University of Waterloo were working on developing a more reliable robotic inspection technology that can reduce the cost of bridge inspections. Individually programmed with inspection plans and location focus areas per bridge inspection, the robots consist of six five-megapixel cameras able to create a 360-degree view mounted on an autonomous ground vehicle. In addition to the cameras, the robots also use lidar—a remote sensing method using lasers—which collect data on present defects and makes an analysis of the inspected findings.

In February, Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers were in the middle of a five-year project geared toward developing new bridge and highway inspection technologies that don’t disrupt traffic flow, which included unmanned aerial vehicles and robots that can crawl where needed to inspect pillars or bridge decks.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Quality Control; Quality control; Research and development

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