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Crowdsourcing information from cell phones could help keep bridges safe and strong

ScienceCrowdsourcing information from cell phones could help keep bridges safe and strong

Your smart phone might disclose the condition of bridges just by being in your pocket during regular journeys.

Accelerometers and GPS sensors that are used in cellphones capture data that may reveal how bridges flex and shake when cars pass over them, researchers write in Communications Engineering on November 3.

By informing engineers when a bridge requires maintenance, apps that collect the measures might keep passengers safe by indicating when a bridge need maintenance. The techniques might potentially assist predict or avoid catastrophic failures such as the sad fall of a footbridge in the western Indian state of Gujarat on October 30 or the bridge span that collapsed in January in Pittsburgh.

Thomas Matarazzo, a civil engineer at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, states, “This is relevant to any style of bridge.” Whether via automobile, in the pocket of a pedestrian, or mounted on a scooter, all that is required, according to him, is a method for mounting a smartphone and a method for monitoring the gadget.

Bridge collapses, according to Matarazzo, are often attributable to structural property uncertainty. Monitoring more regularly is the only way to decrease these uncertainty. Crowdsourcing information from mobile phones may be the best and probably only method to get a large amount of information about bridges throughout the world.

There are almost 600,000 bridges just in the United States. According to Matarazzo, specialised sensors that check for structural faults are costly, hence the majority of bridges are normally examined visually once a year.

Using basic mobile phone applications to monitor bridge conditions might make maintenance more efficient than with human inspectors alone and far less expensive than with sophisticated sensors. Matarazzo and his colleagues predict that the resultant improvement in care would prolong the lifespan of older bridges by a few years, while modern bridges may survive roughly 15 years longer before having to be renovated or replaced.

Matarazzo drove 102 times over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco using mobile phones in his vehicle to see how effectively they could monitor bridges. During 72 journeys across the suspension bridge, he and his study team also gathered data from Uber drivers. The researchers organised for vehicles to capture data during 280 passages over a roughly 30-meter-long concrete bridge in Ciampino, Italy, to examine the approach on bridges more representative of the overpasses that are ubiquitous on motorways.

Cell phone sensors detected vibrations in the structures of both bridges that were within a few percentage points of the data that specialised equipment mounted to the bridges could give.

Matarazzo states that a single mobile phone pass collects as much information on a bridge as a hundred or more permanent sensors. This is because phones may continually acquire data as they traverse a bridge, as opposed to giving data from certain spots along a bridge.

If the researchers are able to enlist the assistance of transportation corporations, government vehicle operators, or the general public, they will be able to amass far more data, resulting in incredibly exact measurements. Since the majority of smartphones already have accelerometers and GPS, information may be acquired for free.

Huili Wang, a civil engineer from China’s Dalian University of Technology who was not involved in the research, believes that cell phones may be used to monitor bridges that lack sensors. However, he has questions about the precision that cellphones can deliver. Nonetheless, “it is a superior method for an approximation without adding extra sensors,” he argues.

Matarazzo concurs that crowdsourced data will likely not completely replace specialist sensors for monitoring bridges. He asserts, however, that mobile phones are unrivalled in a few aspects.

Bridges are essential components of the transportation system. Matarazzo asserts that it is essential to monitor changes that might occur in days and weeks, as opposed to examining bridges every few years. This technology makes this possible.

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