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Early warning sensors save lives

Oct 13, 2015 3:08:00 PM. By: High Tech Campus

At the 6th Intelligent Sensor Network conference on November 3rd you can learn more about why sensors and sensor networks are becoming more and more important within our daily lives for our personal use as well as for industrial or business use. 

Philip Keenan runs business development for Cambridge University’s Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction. CSIC will be showcasing three aspects of their work in Cambridge during the conference at High Tech Campus Eindhoven. He explains why there’s an increasing demand for smart information to keep our infrastructures safe.

If you Google “sink-hole” you’ll see a whole string of articles about sudden infrastructure collapse. It’s happening all the time. Problems in St Albans UK, New York City, Naples, Queensland Australia and Florida are just a few recent examples. And the list continues: 

  • In February 2014 the main railway line connecting the UK’s Devon and Cornwall regions collapsed during storms with estimates of the cost to the economy up to €1.4 bln in the two months it was closed. 

  • In March 2009, the Cologne Historical Archive, one of Europe's most important archives disappeared into a cloud of dust. The collapse was later linked to construction of an underground railway line beneath Germany's fourth-largest city. 

  • In January 2015 The Scorciavacche viaduct near Palermo collapsed shortly after completion. 

Major economic disruption

“Safety concerns often close our railway lines and motorways”, says Philip. “And there are regular reports of buildings that suddenly collapse because of work going on nearby. In many cases, smart sensors could have given advanced warning. ‘Denial of service’ of this kind means major disruption for everyone.”

“If a car can tell you that its brake-fluid level is low, you can take action before there’s an accident. Today’s sensing technology is so advanced we can now expect our roads and bridges to tell us if something’s wrong. We can then take preventative action to repair them, keeping them serviceable and safe.”

Sensing problems before disaster strikes

“Our centre builds new instruments that monitor roads, bridges, power distribution systems and tunnels. We all know their failure can have huge economic impact.”

“For instance, we’ve been doing work on a new rail-over-rail bridge in the UK. It’s due to enter operation in June 2016 for the Great Western Railway. In order to understand both bridge performance and ongoing conditions, CSIC are embedding thousands of fibre optic sensors into the concrete structures. This bridge will have its own central nervous system.”

CSIC takes its technology from the laboratory all the way through to a commercial product ready to transfer into the UK construction supply chain and beyond.

“We’re moving away from theodolites and electrolevels to more precise 24/7, autonomous remote sensing. The days are over the ‘man in a van’, sent out periodically for site inspection. If the building or bridge can report changes to us automatically, then we can anticipate what action needs to be taken. It’s the best way to keep vital structures running safely and smoothly.” 


Cologne Archive collapse 2009
Cambridge University Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Showcasing Real Examples in Eindhoven

“At the 6th Intelligent Sensor Network conference on November 3rd, CSIC will be showcasing three aspects of our work in Cambridge. For example, we’ll explain why we’re embedding fibre optic strain-and-temperature sensors into the foundations of London’s tallest buildings and in the tunnels of CERN. We’ll be looking at how remote digital cameras are being used to detect structural problems in bridges and tunnels. We’ll also be presenting what we believe is the world’s smallest, lowest power intelligent wireless sensor, the Utterberry”.

“Our goal is to inspire conference attendees to adopt these techniques in their own environments. I hope to see you there.”

High Tech Campus
High Tech Campus


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