Using tech to monitor failing infrastructure

2014_01_nist An example of the VOTERS,Versatile Onboard Traffic Embedded Roaming Sensors, project at Northeastern University, funded by NIST.
(Image: Birken, Vines-Cavanaugh/NEU)

The U.S. has about 4 million miles of public roadways, 1 million miles of water mains and 600,000 bridges; many are in less than perfect condition. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, roughly 240,000 water main breaks occur every year in the U.S.

Which is one reason the National Institute of Standards and Technology has decided to act.


It invested $73 million back in 2008 in select projects led by research universities and industry consortia to make advances in inspection and monitoring technologies for infrastructure.

“Tiny, self-powered sensors that can be embedded in bridge structures and networked wirelessly to continuously monitor the structure’s health,” Michael Baum, spokesman at NIST, said in a release on the website. “Little fly-by-wire vehicles that can flit around bridges to measure and inspect their condition without the need to shut spans down to accommodate human inspectors.”

These futuristic technologies may very well be near at hand, and quite practical as these systems continue to age.

“Improved methods for monitoring and assessing the health of the nation’s critical infrastructure are essential to planning and prioritizing maintenance and upgrade activities before structures fail,” Baum said.

A showcase in March will highlight NIST’s program, “Advanced Sensing Technologies for the Infrastructure”– sponsored research on a cost-shared basis for 17 projects that involved more than 50 U.S. companies, universities and government agencies. NIST’s showcase will highlight 14 of these projects.

Latest Podcasts