Vigilant Sensors Could Detect Bridge Defects

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed sensors that could be mounted on bridges, aircraft or other large structures to constantly search for faults and flaws, possibly giving officials time to head off disasters like the recent Interstate 35W collapse in Minneapolis.

The Sandia engineers are working on several kinds of sensors. One of them, a self-adhesive rubber patch stuck to the surface of a bridge, would be able to detect cracks propagating through the structure by registering changes in air pressure. Another involves a kind of smart paint that could help detect cracks. A network of permanently mounted sensors would be able to constantly monitor the structure and alert engineers to developing flaws before they become a real problem.—Gregory Mone