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Self-Powered Sensors That Communicate Could Warn of Bridge, Building Defects

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One of the new chips that will enable substrate computing.

Michigan State University researchers are developing a new technology that involves the embedding of microchips into building materials to help detect structural defects before they cause problems.

Credit: G.L. Kohuth

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers are developing new technology funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation that would enable a bridge, dam, or building to sense a structural defect before it happens, diagnose what the problem will be, and alert officials before something bad occurs.

Such substrate computing would take place within the building material of a structure.

The team plans to power the sensing, communication, and diagnostic computing using energy harvested from the structure itself. The goal is to integrate these functions within a tiny 3mm-by-3mm electronic chip, which can be embedded within the material of a structure.

"Adoption of such monitoring has previously been limited because of the frequency of battery replacement for battery-powered sensors, as well as the need for a separate communication subsystem usually involving radio frequency sensor networks," says MSU professor Subir Biswas.

The technology could be available in five years, and the researchers believe it will be routinely used in building materials in the future. "These electronic chips...will be capable of detecting the nature of a fault, send the fault information through the structure material itself, and compute the fault pattern across the entire structure," Biswas says.

From MSUToday
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