Science

Sensors transform bridge into living laboratory

Data sensors installed on the Memorial Bridge in New Hampshire provide researchers, engineers and the public with insights into the day-to-day life and health of the bridge and its surrounding environment
Data sensors installed on the Memorial Bridge in New Hampshire provide researchers, engineers and the public with insights into the day-to-day life and health of the bridge and its surrounding environment
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Data sensors installed on the Memorial Bridge in New Hampshire provide researchers, engineers and the public with insights into the day-to-day life and health of the bridge and its surrounding environment
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Data sensors installed on the Memorial Bridge in New Hampshire provide researchers, engineers and the public with insights into the day-to-day life and health of the bridge and its surrounding environment

The Memorial Bridge doesn't just allow folks to cross over the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Kittery in Maine, it also serves as a living laboratory. Now home to a host of sensors, the so-called living bridge provides researchers, engineers and the general public with information about the day-to-day life and health of the bridge itself, as well as monitoring the surrounding environment.

"Building a new bridge can cost communities millions of dollars, so there is interest in exploring ways to get bridges to do more than just transport people and goods," said principal investigator of the Living Bridge Project, Erin Bell.

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire have installed 40 data sensors on the heavily-traveled Memorial Bridge, and moored a floating platform to the pier that's home to a weather station and its own bank of sensors.

These data gatherers provide researchers, engineers and the public with updates on such things as the structural performance, traffic patterns, weather conditions, sea level and tidal information. Bridge nerds – if there is such a thing – can even access information on the behavior of the towers while lifting the center section to allow ships to pass underneath.

"We call it a 'living' bridge because it can talk to us and provide valuable information about its health – the stress it deals with, the ease at which it moves, what's happening around it and even under it in the Piscataqua River," explained Bell. "This bridge is not just for getting us across the water, it can teach us so much more about the world around us."

Researchers and engineers will be able to use the data gathered to inform the designs of future bridges and, noting that the Piscataqua River is one of the Eastern seaboard's fastest navigable waterways, the researchers installed a tidal turbine on the floating platform, which could offer insights into the viability of renewable energy projects.

"What is exciting about this is that tidal energy can be very predictable," said the project's Martin Wosnik. "Unlike solar panels, which can be unreliable due to cloudy days or bad weather, tidal energy is more stable because we can predict the tides well into the future."

Information collected from the sensors and turbine is being made available to other researchers, and forms the basis of a teaching tool for K-12 science projects. A phone app that offers background information about the bridge and its surroundings is also in development. The video below has more.

Source: University of New Hampshire

UNH Living Bridge

1 comment
chrishahin
There is nothing new here in this article, except for installation of a turbine to generate electrical power on the bridge. Use of tides for electrical generation has been known for years. Hydroelectric power is widely used throughout the United States, and could be retrofitted for many bridges where flow rates are relatively constant, such as the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. For more 50 years, DOTs have been monitoring bridges for stresses, general condition, using weather data supplied by NOAA, traffic counts, etc. Numerous other universities and consultants also provide this service. Much of this data previously gathered regarding bridges has led to improvements in codes and specifications.