Innovations  

'Sensing Skin' to Extend Life of Aging Infrastructure

A major scientific breakthrough at MIT promises to better assess aging infrastructure the world over
 Concrete Infrastructure
 
 

Written by: Jon Walton


The looming infrastructure crisis in the United States and developed countries around the world just became a bit less daunting.

A team of scientists and engineers recently published findings for a new, potentially revolutionary method of evaluating and monitoring the condition of deteriorating concrete infrastructure, from bridges to dams to buildings. Using a relatively simple patchwork of highly sensitive and conductive material, engineers would be able to use computer software to locate weakening areas before major renovation, or a dangerous failure, becomes inevitable. This would massively decrease maintenance costs and increase longevity for a variety of public and private projects.

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According to an article at ScienceDaily, this elastic material could be easily applied to existing structures – it can literally be glued onto any concrete surface – or incorporated into new designs. Minute changes, such as cracks or weakening due to shear or sagging, will change the electrical conductivity of the small, rectangular sensors, alerting a connected computer system immediately and with pinpoint accuracy. Current monitoring systems typically rely on only a few, bulkier sensors looking for changes to the entire structure, severely limiting the amount and speed of the information engineers need to assess the infrastructure health.

Armed with instant feedback and the ability to precisely locate emerging structural problems, engineers will be able to greatly extend the life of many types of concrete infrastructure – good news for a sector soon to be inundated with renovation and repair projects. The gloomy forecast for America’s infrastructure may be brightening.

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