The worldwide network of highways, bridges, tunnels, and other structural facilities is rapidly growing, and so are the global infrastructure challenges. Aging roadways mixed with extreme weather conditions cause traffic delays, time and money losses, and threats to safety and life.
There are more than 617,000 bridges across the United States. Currently, 42% of all bridges are at least 50 years old, and 46,154, or 7.5% of the nation’s bridges, are considered structurally deficient, meaning they are in ‘poor’ condition.
In response to the need for preserving and modernizing infrastructure, our client, a Silicon Valley research and innovation center, has built a fiber optic sensing technology to remotely monitor the structural health of critical assets, proactively assess their condition, and optimize maintenance operations. Working hand in hand with our client, Intellias developed a predictive IoT maintenance solution that makes monitoring of critical structures more accurate and cost-efficient and serves as an early warning system for potential failures.
Maintaining vital infrastructure requires scheduled checks by engineers, usually twice a year. This is a huge undertaking considering the cost of regular on-site monitoring, the vast number of assets of state significance across the country, and traffic disruptions due to closed roads or bridges under inspection. What adds to the problem is that manual checks are prone to human error: some deficiencies are not easily spotted by the human eye and may lead to safety risks.
A think tank for innovative approaches and solutions, our client thought up a more optimized way to conduct necessary maintenance. The company invented low-cost embedded fiber optic sensors that can be easily installed on structures and used to collect and return real-time information on structural strain, bending, vibration, thermal response, loads, and corrosion. The next step was to develop a smart structural health solution that would help asset managers analyze data on asset conditions and performance to determine the need and optimal timing for maintenance.
Our client has established a joint venture with a state-owned enterprise focused on strategic asset management of all railway and tram infrastructure, including more than 2,500 bridges. As Intellias had already worked successfully on one of our client’s IoT projects, we accepted the challenge to join their R&D team to build a predictive maintenance solution and deploy pilots with our client’s new customer.
Evaluation and R&D strategy
Our primary goal was to build the product from an idea to a proof-of-concept (PoC) that could be scaled for use in other infrastructure sectors. Intellias experts conducted evaluations and came up with a technical proposal for technologies to be used on the project.
Our client’s serverless solution for remote monitoring was meant to consist of:
- connected fiber optic sensors attached to a bridge’s structure to collect data
- IoT edge devices to send real-time data from the bridge to a single point for analysis
- an AI analytics tool to evaluate sensor data and deliver insights to help bridge owners and operators interpret and manage the structural health of bridges
To bring this system to life, we conducted research that helped us find the right engineering solutions to ensure data accuracy and orchestrate data flows. For example, one of our solutions was finding the right way to install sensors so they generate reliable data, no matter the conditions. Another solution enabled remote configuration of edge devices by building a common channel that sends data from the front end through the back end to the IoT edge device – and then all the way back to the user.
System implementation and trials
Our client’s application features an interactive dashboard for user management and asset monitoring. Bridge managers can use the system’s visualization tools and ML-based analytics to track the current condition of each bridge and determine when and where maintenance and repairs are needed. This removes the need for costly regular field inspections and allows for significant cost savings with on-demand asset maintenance.
To conduct validation trials, first five priority bridges were fitted with hundreds of sensors to gather detailed data on the performance of each bridge. These pilots proved the efficiency and accuracy of the asset monitoring system we developed. The sophistication of data indicated that this technology is able to accurately identify and map a range of impacts on a bridge.
After successful trials, our client ramped up the technology rollout considering its potential to be scaled and used on any infrastructure asset that needs maintenance, including roads, railways, tunnels, airport runways, multi-level car parks, and ports.
As the world is moving to building smart infrastructure of the future, governmental organizations, road authorities, and public transport providers will increasingly turn to connected predictive maintenance technologies to enhance structural safety, ensure the longevity of critical assets, and optimize asset management operations.
With the help of Intellias, our client built a scalable, end-to-end IoT system for identifying and preventing structural deterioration problems to avoid unnecessary delays, costly repairs, and safety risks. Successfully implemented pilots and real-time data accuracy proved that the solution is a real game changer in extending the life of infrastructure assets, ensuring structural health safety, prioritizing budgets, and optimally allocating maintenance crews. This makes asset management more effective and less time-consuming and brings significant cost savings to governments and infrastructure providers.
Our team’s contribution to the new product will accelerate our client’s broad entry into the IoT market with new industrial offerings, as the demand for structural health monitoring based on fiber optic sensing technologies continues to grow around the world.
faster sensor installation compared to traditional technology
bridges with successful pilot installations
operation of critical infrastructure