Sensing Catastrophic Failures Before They Happen
In June 2013, six cars from a Canadian Pacific train derailed due to the failure of a bridge over the Bow River in Calgary. The failure was caused by fast-moving floodwaters scouring near one the bridge piers. A rail company spokesman said the vulnerability had not been detected despite several inspections, because the scouring was at the bottom of the bridge, where inspection and detection were impossible.
His statement reflects the difficulties involved in inspecting critical, vulnerable infrastructure using conventional methods.
Research by Dr. Sriram Narasimhan, Canada Research Chair in Smart Infrastructure, aims to detect such failures automatically through the use of sensors and smart data acquisition technology. Such technology would permit structures to be evaluated with confidence, and catastrophic failures predicted before they happen.
Our ability to collect information using sensors has far surpassed our ability to manage, interpret, and act on that data in a timely manner to prevent catastrophes. To this end, Narasimhan is developing theoretical concepts to extract meaningful information from measured data, developing computer algorithms for implementation, and conducting experimental studies in the laboratory and the field. His research will ultimately lead to smart infrastructure that will help reduce the risk of catastrophic failure.
Successful implementation of this technology could enable us not only to save human lives, but to extend the lives of existing infrastructure, thereby saving money.