More sensors to be added to Mich.’s Mackinac Bridge for maintenance experiment

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Updated Mar 13, 2019
A view of the Mackinac Bridge from the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s bridge camA view of the Mackinac Bridge from the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s bridge cam

Thousands more tiny sensors will soon be installed on the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan to gather data in a project that could lead to better, lower-cost bridge maintenance and management.

The project began in 2016 with 20 prototype sensors placed on the bridge. And about 2,000 more are scheduled to be installed this summer, MSU Today reports.

The sensors, part of a research project by Michigan State University and Washington University in St. Louis, is being tested as a low-cost alternative to monitoring a bridge’s conditions. The sensors are powered by traffic vibrations and do not need batteries or wires.

MSU associate professor Nizar Lajnef tells MSU Today: “The successful large-scale deployment of this novel low-cost sensing technology will dramatically transform the economics of bridge preservation/management and ultimately improve the serviceability of bridges. We also will explore how the collected data could be used for improved cost-effective, condition-based maintenance of the Mackinac Bridge structural components. We are excited that this will be the first fully instrumented bridge in the country using advanced wireless and self-powered monitoring technology.”

The sensors could eventually be used for any civil structures, including roads and bridges. Once embedded on the structure, the internet-connected sensors automatically retrieve data and upload it to the cloud. They could even be helpful in emergencies, according to WUSTL professor Shantanu Chakrabartty.

“If something rare happens, like an earthquake or an explosion, you can identify which part of the structure you need to prioritize your emergency response,” he says on a WUSTL video. To watch the video, see below: