ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
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VLSI chips for structural health monitoring

A group of computer engineering researchers, led by ECE’s Dong Ha, is working on next-generation technology to monitor the health of the country’s structural infrastructures, including bridges, plants, and buildings.

“The integrity of these structures is typically assessed by visual inspection, which is time consuming and requires seasoned experts,” he said. “Most critical, however, these assessments provide mostly qualitative – and often subjective data.”

The lack of quantitative assessment can lead to early replacement, which wastes funds and resources, or late maintenance, which can lead to failure, he said. “Cost-effective monitoring can save millions of dollars annually,” he said.

Ha envisions a system where all critical structures are monitored continuously with tiny wireless sensor nodes that report the status of their structural health to central offices. The complexity and high installation cost of today’s structural health monitoring (SHM) technology has been a stumbling block, according to Ha.

His team is developing an ultra lowpower, wireless SHM sensor node with a tiny ultra wideband (UWB) radio. The sensor would be low cost, about the size of a quarter, and would operate for several years with a coin-sized battery or use energy harvested from ambient sources, he explained. “The UWB radio will have an antenna dimension of 2 cm x 2 cm and be able to communicate more than 50 meters, he said.”

The sensor node is highly versatile and can be applied to virtually any SHM application, including bridges, buildings, wind turbine blades, airplane wings, and spacecraft. Ha’s group has developed several previous generations of SHM sensor nodes, each one smaller and more energy efficient than previous ones.