System could warn of bridge dangers

July 29, 2011 at 8:11 PM
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COLLEGE PARK, Md., July 29 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say a new, affordable early warning system for the nation's aging bridges might avert bridge collapses that could result in loss of life.

A University of Maryland engineer says his inexpensive, wireless system could prevent the kind of bridge collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145 on a Minneapolis interstate bridge on Aug. 1, 2007, and do so at 1 percent of the cost of current wired systems.

"Potentially hundreds of lives could be saved," Mehdi Kalantari says. "One of every four U.S. highway bridges has known structural problems or exceeded its intended life-span. Most only get inspected once every one or two years. That's a bad mix."

Kalantari has developed tiny wireless sensors that monitor and transmit minute-by-minute data on a bridge's structural integrity that can be analyzed by a central computer to warn officials instantly of possible trouble, a UM release said Friday.

The sensors measure a number of indicators of a bridge's structural health -- including strain, vibration, flexibility and development of metal cracks.

"This new approach makes preventive maintenance affordable -- even at a time when budgets are tight," Kalantari says. "Officials will be able to catch problems early and will have weeks or month to fix a problem."

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