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Early Warning Sensors to Warn of Bridge Hazards

Auburn materials engineers are working on new technology using early warning sensors that could drastically reduce the numbers of accidents that occur on bridges. Based on components used in military defense missile designs, the researchers are developing sensors capable of monitoring a variety of physical and environmental conditions and reporting them to a central location.
"The system will provide warnings of hazardous conditions in advance, enabling repairs to be made or the bridge to be shut down before an accident could occur," says Jeff Fergus of the materials engineering faculty.
"It will have acceleration sensors . . . that monitor damage from objects striking the bridge . . . other sensors that monitor ice and fog . . . and send messages about these conditions over a cellular phone network."
Auburn engineers are modifying existing components to make them as small as possible.
"These are MEMS (Micro ElectroMechanical Systems) devices," Fergus said. "They are very, very small and house a circuit that processes the signal and sends it to a central monitoring station probably to a computer terminal at a police station." Powered by batteries or solar cells, the tiny sensors would be placed in a tube or plastic strip attached directly to the bridge or an adjoining structure, he said.
The system also will provide a means through which inspectors can assess conditions remotely.
"They can dial into the system and predict how close conditions are for fog or ice," Fergus said.
Fergus said the project will be a multiagency, multiuniversity effort, involving industrial and academic partners in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts.
"As far as I know, no other states are currently using anything like this technology," he said.

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