Sunday, July 20, 2008

US: Sensors could plug leak in nation's infrastructure

Metro: Remember the water main break in March that opened a crater the size of a basketball court in Public Square? What if the pipe itself had been able to alert engineers ahead of time that its walls were thinning and in danger of rupture?
And the warped, rusted steel plates on the Inner Belt Bridge that required emergency repairs this winter after previous inspections missed the deterioration - could such parts send a warning signal when they first start to go bad?
Federal officials think a web of tiny, permanently embedded sensors might someday safeguard the nation's "critical infrastructure" of roads, bridges and water pipes, providing round-the-clock checks of vulnerable components and potentially saving money and lives.
But not without a major leap in technology.
So they're offering companies, universities and labs millions of dollars in research funds to goose the sluggish pace of sensor development.
The new program -- which could tap the sensing and micro-electronics expertise of Case Western Reserve University and other local groups -- aims to create advanced monitoring gear for inspectors who now must heavily rely on their eyes and ears to detect problems.

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