Researchers Embark on $6.8 Million Research Project to Develop Accurate, Wireless Monitoring of Highway Bridges

January 14, 2009
The nation's aging highway bridges could become safer structures using state-of-the-art wireless monitoring and inspection systems developed through a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to an engineering team from The University of Texas at Austin, National Instruments, and WJE.

The grant will allow for the development of two wireless network systems that together address a critical issue for bridge safety—the monitoring of cracks or defects and corrosion in key structural components. Matching funds will bring the five-year research project's budget total to approximately $6.8 million.

The United States has about 600,000 highway bridges. Twenty-five percent were rated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete in 2007, according to the Federal Highway Administration. About one-third of all bridges are fifty years old or older.

National Instruments and university engineers will design one network of low-power, wireless sensors to continuously monitor fracture-critical bridges—those susceptible to collapse from the failure of a single critical component—over a ten-year service life. A second network of passive sensors will be designed to detect early signs of corrosion in reinforced concrete bridge decks. WJE, with more than fifty years of experience in instrumentation and monitoring structures, will implement the systems and field test their reliability once the hardware for the wireless networks has been developed.

"As our founder Jack Janney often said, sometimes you have to "ask the structure,'" said Gary Klein, WJE's executive vice president. "We are delighted to be working with The University of Texas and National Instruments to find a faster, more reliable way to monitor performance of critical bridge elements."

The NIST award comes from its new Technology Innovation Program (TIP), created to support innovation, high-risk, high-reward research in areas of critical national need where the government has a clear interest because of the magnitude of the problems and their importance to society.

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