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Wireless Sensors and Flying Robots: A Way to Monitor Deteriorating Bridges

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Quadcopters like this one could help engineers and scientists monitor bridge safety.

A new system of wireless sensors and flying robots could help monitor the conditions of bridges in real time.

Credit: Wikicommons

Tufts University researchers are developing wireless sensors and flying robots that could help authorities monitor the conditions of bridges in real time.

The smart sensors could be permanently attached to bridge beams and joints to continuously record vibrations and process the recorded signal. Changes in the vibration response could signify damage, says Tufts professor Babak Moaveni. He is collaborating with fellow professor Usman Khan to develop a wireless system that would use autonomous flying robots, or quad-copters, to hover near the sensors and collect data while taking visual images of bridge conditions. The drone-like robots then would transmit data to a central location point for analysis.

The research is supported by a $400,000 U.S. National Science Foundation grant, which is needed because there are still significant navigational and communications hurdles to overcome before the system can function as a reliable tool.

Moaveni says a major goal of the research is to develop algorithms that can automatically detect damage in a bridge from the changes in its vibration measurements. Once installed, the sensors would supply data about the condition of bridges that cannot be acquired by visual inspection alone and would enable authorities to identify and focus on bridges that require immediate attention.

From Tufts Now
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