There may soon be a high-tech approach for inspecting bridges.
Each day, we depend on bridges to carry the weight of millions of vehicles. But, all that traffic can weaken a bridge and many aging bridges are also prone to corrosion. Engineers regularly inspect bridges for damage, but checkups are limited to what the eyes can see.
"That type of inspection can only see damage that's occurring on the surface of the bridge," said University of Michigan civil engineer Jerome Lynch.
Now, civil engineers have a new device, called a sensing skin, to help find damage deep inside bridges that may be missed.
"So, this skin is applied to the surface of the bridge, and essentially can self-sense whether corrosion is occurring, cracking is occurring on that bridge," said University of Michigan civil engineer Jerome Lynch.
The skin is a thin material, lined with electrical wires. An electric current is sent through the wires. If there is any corrosion or cracking inside the bridge, it will break the electrical current. A computer then creates a visual map of the change, which alerts inspectors exactly where damage is located.
"So, essentially, if the bridge cracks the skin will crack, if the bridge is corroding, the skin will also observe that corrosion," said University of Michigan civil engineer Jerome Lynch.
Researchers expect the skin to also help inspect buildings and planes for hidden damage. Bridges are paving the way first for this high-tech device.
"Ultimately, they're going to render bridges safer," said University of Michigan civil engineer Jerome Lynch.
Researchers plan on field testing the sensing skin on bridges next year.