Renewable energy and civic insights are the chief products expected to come of a new engineering project.
The Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is being equipped with a turbine system and an array of sensors unlocking new insights around weather, traffic and the environment. (New Hampshire Department of Transportation)
Smart-bridge technology is in development in the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in a project that could poise the city to save cash on infrastructure while improving the environment.
Led by engineers at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), the city is working on a "living bridge" project that will include the installation of 40 sensors along the city’s Memorial Bridge connecting the city to Kittery, Maine. Data gathered will unlock insights about the structural stability of the bridge, weather, traffic patterns and the marine ecology beneath it. The undertaking, which began in 2013 when the bridge was rebuilt, also provides for a turbine system to convert tidal energy into electric power for the sensor system.
A full installation of sensors is scheduled for mid-December. After about six to nine months of testing, the team will install the approximately 10-foot-by-seven-foot tidal turbine system.
“Bridges like this can do far more than get you from A to B,” UNH engineer Erin Bell said in a video published by the National Science Foundation. “We’re putting accelerometers, which measure the vibration, all along the top allowing decisions to be objective rather than subjective so that we can increase the life of our infrastructure.”
The goal is sustainability, Bell said, both for the structure itself and for its surrounding environment. Bell and her colleagues said the project — which has $1.2 million in financial support from the National Science Foundation and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation — could serve as a potential model for extending the life of all the nation’s bridges.
With data from sensors, engineers can fix structural problems before they become too severe, and for bridges too far gone, data can justify major infrastructure investments. The Federal Highway Administration estimated in 2015 that roughly 10 percent of the nation's bridges — more than 58,000 — are structurally deficient.
The bridge's traffic data will also allow drivers to receive updates, and the project will also serve as an opportunity to teach students about engineering and sensor technology.