Researcher believes wireless sensor networks could prevent future bridge collapses

Last week, I wrote a blog post about the metro Wi-Fi network's instrumental role in helping first responders communicate after the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, MN. Using the metro Wi-Fi network, rescuers could bypass grid-locked cellular networks and communicate more effectively.But can wireless technology play a role in preventing future bridge collapses? According to an August 8, 2007 NetworkWorld article, several universities have developed, and are now publicizing, research and technology that could be used to detect potential problems before they cause a catastrophic failure.

Of special interest, is the important role wireless technology plays in monitoring these new solutions. For example, Kerop Janoyan, an associate professor at Clarkson University, has developed and deployed a working model of a wireless sensor network that measures bridge vibration and strain. The system reports this data to a base station where it can be remotely retrieved and monitored. According to a July 7, 2007 article describing Janoyan's system,

Traditional wired instrumentation of a bridge is often not feasible due to time and cost constraints. Now, the bridge can be instrumented using a low-cost and automatic system for structural health monitoring and condition assessment. A bridge on Wright Road just off Route 11 between Canton and Potsdam, New York, was recently instrumented with 40 channels of sensors and data was retrieved in real-time at a base station.

This large-scale deployment is one of the largest of its kind currently in the United States and demonstrates the use of wireless sensor networks for structural health monitoring as a feasible low-cost, universal approach.