America's infrastructure is sick and getting sicker -- it's simply a matter of age and an inability to know when and where some doctoring is needed. But sensor technology can identify where problems lie.Unfortunately, the sensors that we currently have available to install on bridges are expensive, in great part because only complex wiring can transform individual sensors into a full functioning diagnostic web. The answer to that problem is wireless technology.
Jerry Lynch, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Michigan, is the lead researcher of a team that's pioneering wireless sensors such as Narada, a low-cost device designed for installation in civil structures. Lynch and his students are collaborating with researchers at KAIST to validate the performance of the sensors on bridges in Korea.
Lynch and his colleagues are also experimenting with a paint-like substance made of carbon nanotubes that can be applied to the surface of bridges to detect corrosion and cracks. Since carbon nanotubes conduct electricity by sending a current through the paint, he says, it's possible to detect structural weakness through changes in the electrical properties.
Lynch and his colleagues explained some of their work in the video "Nova Smart Bridges - Nanotech Skin." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwQVpZFfP18