Mind & Matter


Monitoring Infrastructure, Wirelessly

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SenSpot wireless bridge monitoring system, the University of Maryland.


As federal and state governments struggle to ratchet down current budgets, we need no reminder about the decrepit state of U.S. infrastructure. According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Society of Civil Engineers, over 25 percent of bridges in the U.S. are in need of immediate attention. Since I live and work in the Twin Cities, I know too well what can happen to a deficient bridge—as occurred with the I-35W bridge in 2007.

Fortunately, Mehdi Kalantari with the University of Maryland believes that he has a cost-effective early warning solution for aging bridges. Kalantari’s invention is simple: a wireless monitoring device that continually reports information about the structural health of a bridge, an approach he claims requires one-hundredth the cost of a comprehensive wired network.

"If this kind of technology had been available in Minnesota four years ago, there's a good chance the fatal bridge collapse could have been avoided," Kalantari said. "This new approach makes preventive maintenance affordable—even at a time when budgets are tight. Officials will be able to catch problems early and will have weeks or months to fix a problem."




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.