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Smartphones can reveal whether bridges are about to fall down

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Your smartphone’s accelerometer collects information as you move over the bridge.This reveals if the structure is weakened and lets you know when to fix it to extend its lifespan


November 3, 2022

Smartphone information was recorded as the car passed the Golden Gate Bridge

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Engineers can measure the health of bridges using data from smartphones. This can extend the service life of these structures by up to 15 years.

Most bridges are evaluated using visual inspection, which can be a time consuming process. Alternatively, an attached sensor can detect vibrations called modal frequencies. They are associated with the physical characteristics of bridges and can be used to assess the condition of bridges, but they are expensive to install on all bridges.

now, Thomas Matarazzo At the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, he and his colleagues developed a system to measure modal frequencies and used movement data from telephones to monitor bridge health. “We don’t need to buy additional or special sensors to collect the data we need at scale,” he says.

To do this, the researchers collected data with an app when the phone crossed the bridge. They used GPS location data and information from the phone’s accelerometer to reveal small movements of the phone.

The survey was divided into three parts. For the first part, the researcher loaded the car with two of his iPhones and drove around San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge a total of about 100 times.

Second, we obtained data from Uber drivers who have made over 70 trips to the Golden Gate Bridge as part of their daily routine. The researcher also used data from nearly 250 trips on his Android smartphone across a short concrete bridge in Ciampino, Italy, which is more representative of bridges in the United States.

All three data sets received varying levels of supervision, ranging from carefully controlled Golden Gate Bridge rides to essentially uncontrolled Uber rides. Matarazzo and his team found that it is possible to measure bridge modal frequencies from any data set. This is within 3% of measurements obtained by highly accurate static sensors. “This is a huge breakthrough because we can use low-cost existing datasets to estimate these important dynamic properties,” he said, Matarazzo said, adding that taxis such as Uber It should work with an existing dataset in your app.

However, in some cases, smartphone data will need to be supplemented with human inspection. Matarazzo says you can use this method on thousands of bridges and send someone to monitor just the ones you need.

Given the ubiquity of cell phone data, the researchers believe their method could add more than two years of extra service time to old bridges by applying maintenance at the right time for bridges, and save new ones. We estimate that we can add nearly 15 years of service to the bridge. lifetime.

Journal reference: Communication engineering, DOI: 10.1038/s44172-022-00025-4

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