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Come to Your Sens(ors)

Can sensors and automation improve America's failing infrastructure?

As the U.S. infrastructure ages, the value of surveying cannot be understated. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) doled out its most recent report regarding the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure with a solid G.P.A of... D+. The assessment, which is performed every 4 years and will next be conducted in 2017, looks at objects such as dams, bridges and rail systems. With a D+, we’re not making it onto Mom’s fridge anytime soon.

The implications of these conditions are huge both in terms of safety and economic prosperity. According to the ASCE, “investing in infrastructure is an engine for long-term economic growth, increasing GDP, employment, household income, and exports. The reverse is also true – without investing, infrastructure can become a drag on the economy.”

A major part of keeping people (and the economy) safe is ensuring that proper maintenance is done before it’s too late. Being aware of issues by measuring and analyzing them is key to correcting them.

The good news is that technology is making it easier to measure the structural integrity of objects in an accurate and continuous manner. Multi-sensor integration, as the name implies, involves combining the data of many sensors to achieve a more thorough picture of a given situation. When the data from multiple sensors is combined with algorithms, it allows engineers to identify problems that they wouldn’t otherwise see from the data of individual sensors.

Automated total stations, outfitted with sensors, servomotors, self-calibration systems and more, are being used to perform monitoring during construction and in ongoing stability analyses.

With the right network design, specialized software systems combined with highly accurate measurement tools are helping to assess objects such as tunnel bodies and levees and identify deformation more quickly. Of course, monitoring is just one piece of the puzzle: Resources must be allocated to perform the necessary corrective actions.


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