DST wins $4M NIST-TIP award to develop fiber-optic system for monitoring public infrastructure

January 15, 2009--Under its new Technology Innovation Program (TIP), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has has selected Distributed Sensor Technologies (DST, Santa Clara, CA) for the "Fiber Sensing System for Civil Infrastructure Health Monitoring" program. DST and its joint venture partners plan to substitute a single optical fiber sensing cable for hundreds of discrete strain or fracture sensors to monitor structures such as bridges and pipelines.

January 15, 2009--Under its new Technology Innovation Program (TIP), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has has selected Distributed Sensor Technologies, Inc. (DST, Santa Clara, CA)--and joint venture partners Optiphase (Van Nuys, CA), Redfern Integrated Optics (RIO, Santa Clara, CA) and the University of Illinois at Chicago--for the "Fiber Sensing System for Civil Infrastructure Health Monitoring" program. The partners plan a system--which will substitute a single optical fiber sensing cable for hundreds of discrete, local strain or fracture sensors--to monitor large public structures such as bridges, waterways and pipelines. The $4 million award is part of a larger project, the first to be made under TIP, that initiates up to $88.2 million in new research over the next five years on structure monitoring and inspection technologies, $42.5 million of it potentially funded by TIP.

The funded program aims to produce an economic method for instrumenting large structures. The ultimate goal is real-time, high-resolution monitoring of the public works infrastructure system for detection of cracks, large deformations, dynamic overloads and other critical structural conditions. By replacing local discrete sensors with lengths of optical fiber, the system will mitigate initial deployment costs of the discrete sensors and a variety of bandwidth and transmission problems associated with collecting data from a large number of sensors, while offering more precise information on the location and severity of faults.

The problem regarding the nation's infrastructure has recently yielded shocking statistics, such as the 2007 Federal Highway Administration study that rated more than twenty-five percent of U.S. bridges as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. DST is focused on large, national infrastructure projects to address such deficiencies with solutions to monitor these complex systems, which include over one million miles of water mains, 600,000 bridges and 4 million miles of public roadway.

Technology development from the DST joint venture partners includes high-performance laser sources from RIO, precision detection instrumentation from Optiphase, and civil structural monitoring expertise from the Department of Civil and Materials Engineering of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

RIO will develop the laser source technology for these advanced systems, which will be based on its high-performance Planar External Cavity Laser technology platform, PLANEX. The low noise and narrow linewidth of lasers based on this highly integrated platform will enable cost-effective high performance systems with high reliability and low cost of ownership, says RIO.

Optiphase's blueprint calls for the use of distributed sensors (the entire fiber length is the sensor) and low-cost standardized fiber optic assemblies. The approach leverages naturally occurring scattering light phenomenon in fiber optic cable, coupled with the highest possible resolution method available (interferometric), to yield the breakthrough required for concurrent dynamic and static, high-resolution measurements of large structures. This system could also scale to form an interstate civil structure grid, providing remote monitoring and highly precise real-time data analysis of structural conditions.

For more information, see NIST's Fiber Sensing System for Civil Infrastructure Health Monitoring project brief. See also the websites of Redfern Integrated Optics, Inc., Optiphase, Inc., and the University of Illinois at Chicago's Laboratory for Smart Sensors and Non-destructive Testing.

Posted by Barbara G. Goode, barbarag@pennwell.com.

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