Monitoring the Stress on Bridges, Buildings, Dams, and Tunnels Can Prevent Tragedy

July 11, 2016

When we wake up in our homes, travel down highways in our cars, and arrive at work or school buildings, we expect these engineered structures to be sturdy and strong to keep us safe. We usually don’t think twice about the integrity of these structures until they start to show wear and tear, such as when we drive over a pothole or when a bridge collapses.

Structural integrity risks and failures are a result of incremental changes over time. Monitoring these slow changes can prevent fatalities and catastrophes. Associate Professor Hae-Bum “Andrew” Yun, Ph.D., in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering at UCF, has created a new system that monitors these incremental changes that can cause structural failure, before they become fatal. You can read more about Yun’s research and background in this month’s Faculty Feature.

Only counting dams and bridges, there are millions of structures to monitor within America’s infrastructure. For example there are:

  • 75,000+ dams
  • 600,000+ bridges
  • 4 million+ miles paved roads
  • Approximately 3.8 to 5.6 million buildings

Phenomena such as cracks forming in walls and ice forming on roads occur at a slow, seemingly imperceptible rate, but other environmental factors such as temperature and precipitation can hide these slight changes, hampering efforts to effectively monitor important changes. Yun’s structural health monitoring method is able to cut through the “noise” of the other environmental factors to effectively detect and monitor these subtle changes more accurately, using fewer sensors, leading to better maintenance and incident prevention.

These small changes that can lead to big problems occur in patterns, so this technique uses an auto-modulating pattern (AMP) detection system. This method can be used on bridges, buildings, dams, and tunnels whose structural behavior is significantly affected by the ongoing changes in the immediate environment, including changes in the mixture of temperature, climate, humidity, etc. The motivation of AMP is to detect tiny but important changes in sensor readings, which is directly related to structural health. It can be used independently, or it can be used within a larger detection unit to trigger alerts for when a structure is at risk of failing.

Within this system, several types of sensors can be used such as acceleration, displacement, slope, strain, temperature, and velocity to measure the risk of structural stress using various important factors over time. Detection of small changes can be improved by the collection of raw signals from these sensors over time, to identify changes in hidden patterns.

In order to get to market, this technology needs you. To learn how to either start a company or add this technology to your product line, contact Raju Nagaiah.