For decades, electric utility crews had to traipse through hundreds of miles of sometimes rough terrain to visually monitor weakness- and damage-signaling changes in transmission and distribution lines. Now, with the advent of drones, these inspections have become a lot easier, quicker and less expensive.
The same may now be true with monitoring weaknesses in the nation's roadway and railway bridges, which, as readers are aware, sometimes make national headlines after they buckle and crash to the ground or water underneath, due to previous undiscovered weaknesses. This unfortunate trend is likely to continue, since over half of U.S. bridges are more than 50 years old.
In the past, trained staff had to move along bridge structures foot by foot to visually locate any changes in strength, such as cracks, tilts and other weaknesses.
However, at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, AT&T, as part of its "Smart Cities" technology array, introduced electronic structure monitoring tools that utilize internet of things (IoT) technology.
In specific, two separate devices, a tilt sensor and a crack sensor, can be placed at strategic locations on a roadway bridge, railway bridge or even a footbridge. The sensors monitor various structural and environmental factors on the bridge, such as crack width, temperature, joint movement and angle changes. Every eight hours, sensor data from the devices are sent back across AT&T's 4G LTE network to an IBM cloud, and a secure web application provides a portal for customers (those responsible for the bridge).
Customers can access the web portal dashboard on their laptops, tablets and/or smartphones, looking for alert triggers that are created from significant changes in the bridge's structure. Customers can then take action based on the location, condition and operation type data that have been sent from the sensors.