CH2M Hill, HP eye progress in infrastructure monitoring

December 18, 2009 – HP expects its latest inertial MEMS sensing technology to enable new classes of applications. One that has attracted attention is bridge monitoring.

Environmental and engineering consulting services company CH2M Hill has had a more than 20-year relationship with HP Labs (Palo Alto, CA) and HP Technology Development (Corvallis, OR), and is working with HP to develop at least one or two "champion" applications for HP’s technology, according to Michael O’Halloran, director of technology I&AT. "The ability to measure minute amounts of movement and doing so independently — i.e., being able to track location independent of satellites and other means of transmission — is especially attractive to the kinds of projects in which CH2M Hill is involved," he told Small Times.

Conventional bridge monitoring is time-consuming, labor intensive, and not particularly revealing, so a device that could precisely monitor the structure could be quite revealing, noted O’Halloran. Depending on the bridge, visual inspection is done every one or two years; every four or five years, a very detailed visual inspection is done with someone crawling all over the bridge looking for signs of failure, he explained. "Some states are beginning to use analytical instrumentation in addition to visual inspection, but visual inspection is still the traditional method used," he said.

CH2M Hill is actively seeking partnerships with states to develop monitoring algorithms and obtain data that hopefully will indicate monitors that can yield data at least comparable to current methods. Conventional sensing systems use costly instruments that are also costly to install, have to be hardwired, and do not have a very wide range, O’Halloran added. "We’re hoping the HP technology will expand the range at which the instrument looks and lower the cost of installation," he said. "If we can’t get the cost down, then it can’t be effectively deployed in a large application." CH2M Hill believes there is already some evidence to suggest that HP’s new technology will work.

With much of the infrastructure in the US built during the Eisenhower administration, it is critical to develop a logical way to prioritize allocation of repair and replacement funds. If HP’s sensing technology could be developed for monitoring such structures, it would be a way to address the prioritization challenge, according to O’Halloran.

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