Tiny, self-powered sensors that can be embedded in bridge structures and networked wirelessly to continuously monitor the structure's health. 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. An automated instrument package that transforms city fleet vehicles into rolling inspectors that monitor and map the condition of roadways and bridge decks as they go about their usual routines.
Beginning in 2008, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) invested $73 million in a portfolio of competitively selected projects led by research universities and industry consortia to leapfrog the state-of-the-art in monitoring and inspection technologies for the nation's aging infrastructure. Most of them will be on display and discussed for interested potential users or investors in a special Civil Infrastructure Showcase held at the NIST laboratories in Gaithersburg, Md., on March 13 and 14, 2014.
Infrastructure maintenance is a critical issue. The United States is estimated to have 1 million miles of water mains, 600,000 bridges and 4,000,000 miles of public roadway. A significant portion of these assets are in less than prime condition. The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that there are roughly 240,000 water main breaks every year in the U.S. And just incidentally, over a decade ago the American Society of Civil Engineers reckoned that Americans spend $54 billion each year in vehicle repairs caused by poor road conditions.
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. The NIST 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. The March showcase will highlight 14 of these projects.
There is a $95 fee to attend the showcase. Register online. Further details and the showcase agenda are available online.
The NIST civil infrastructure sensing technologies projects were developed under the Technology Innovation Program (TIP). For more on TIP, see: TIP section of the website. For details on the two TIP competitions on infrastructure technologies and the results, see this page.