Connected infrastructure: How IoT enables bridge health monitoring
Traffic jams, detours, and the heavy-duty trucks lumbering toward them are familiar sights when I’m driving. One reason for this is the overburdened and crumbling infrastructure – a subject which has recently become the focus of my colleagues’ work.
The results of a quick internet search are alarming. Every day brings new reports about heavily stressed infrastructure around the world: bridge collapses and badly maintained roads that bring traffic to a standstill; fragile dams that necessitate the repeated evacuation of thousands of people; and railway tracks in poor condition that interfere with public transport and logistics. Billion-dollar investments are necessary if we want to bring this infrastructure up to scratch. If we are to address the current challenges, we need solutions that we can implement quickly and easily – such as the monitoring of infrastructure components.
Precise monitoring with IoT
To this end, Bosch.IO is pooling its IoT expertise with partners in construction planning and engineering. Not only will the resulting cloud-based solution make it possible to precisely monitor and check existing infrastructure, but it will also play a major role in ensuring the full functionality of new bridges. Bridge operators will be able to use this cloud-based approach from any location to stay informed about events in their infrastructure network and its condition.
Did you know? There are over 612,000 bridges in the United States alone; nearly 56,000 of these are in need of repairSource: American Road and Transportation Builders Association
Detecting problems early on
Besides the natural wear and tear on bridges from wind, humidity, heat, and seismic events, unexpected damage is caused by vandalism and accidents. Such damage is usually reported late or is not detected at all; for example, if a snowplow drives into a bridge pier and neglects to inform the bridge operator after the fact.
For the most part, the effects of natural or unexpected events can be identified only through regular visual inspections performed by test engineers; in Germany, these inspections are required by law. However, these mandatory checks are required only once every three years, and thus do not provide comprehensive protection. At the moment, detecting dangers early on and taking the necessary action is not possible.
Nevertheless, IoT can remedy the situation: Bosch.IO is collaborating with domain experts from the construction industry as well as colleagues from Bosch’s sensor business to develop a solution that will enable monitoring of bridge health in real time.
First, the bridge will be fitted with sensors that gather data on humidity, temperature, expansion, and vibration. This data is transmitted directly to the Bosch IoT Cloud. With the help of construction industry partners, the solution will analyze the information and determine the status of the bridge. Bridge operators can then draw conclusions about unexpected events such as accidents or vandalism. It will also be possible to detect any signs of wear or fatigue on the construction materials.
Speed and load limits, too, can help ensure the health of a bridge. The solution supports this by recording the effects of the limits; for instance measuring tension. It will also provide bridge operators with recommendations on how to adapt the limits so that they can adjust servicing intervals and carry out more targeted maintenance work. Therefore, the solution will not replace the legally required visual inspections, but will instead provide considerable support through sensor patterns.
Use cases in detail
The solution focuses on three main use cases:
- Providing support during bridge construction for the purpose of comparing the target and actual load of the bridge
- Continually monitoring bridge health while carrying out work on existing and newly built bridges
- Determining whether there are deviations from the target load in order to assess maintenance requirements
Furthermore, threshold values for alarm signals can be set to inform bridge operators of critical events. The flexible platform approach means that sensor equipment and analysis models can be tailored to each individual bridge.
All this data can immensely improve infrastructure monitoring. If we can prevent traffic jams and unnecessary construction work, while making the roads safer at the same time, then I’ll feel much more at ease when I’m on my way to work or going on vacation.