Tiny Sensors to Detect Weaknesses in Bridges

A multi-story high geyser from a steam pipe near New York's Grand Central Station and now the collapse of Minneapolis's I-35W bridge...what's next?

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Luckily, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, with help form the University of California at San Diego, are trying to be a bit more proactive when it comes to aging infrastructure in the United States. They have designed electronic sensors, about the size of a business card and costing only $1 each, that, when attached to bridges, could collect data on stressed materials and provide the warning needed to avoid disasters. 

Powered by microwaves, the sun or even small, remote-control helicopters that send pulses and take readings, the sensors detect electrical charges that emanate from strained materials like steel-reinforced concrete.

Now two years into the four-year project at Los Alamos, researcher-at-the-helm Chuck Farrar told the Associated Press that it would probably be years until the sensors are sold commercially.

(Photo courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory)