Michigan researchers to install data-tracking sensors on Mackinac Bridge

Up to 2,000 infrastructure sensors will be installed this summer

March 12, 2019
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan; bridge monitoring sensors

Researchers in the state of Michigan are planning to install up to 2,000 infrastructure sensors on the Mackinac Bridge in order to explore the logistics of a large-scale deployment and provide useful monitoring data to the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA). 

According to a press release from the MBA, the first 20 prototype infrastructure sensors were installed a few years ago on the bridge and were powered solely by vibrations from traffic. These devices have proven their durability and performed as intended. Researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) and Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) are ready to roll out the next phase of testing.

Beginning in 2016, MSU and WUSTL researchers started deploying prototype sensors beneath the bridge as part of a demonstration project sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The Mackinac Bridge provided a high-profile testing ground for these self-powered sensors. Since then, the new and improved versions of the self-powered sensors have been developed as a part of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Cyber-physical Systems program and have been successfully deployed on the bridge.

The team of researchers view the sensing technology as a way to transform the process of bridge preservation and management, and to improve the serviceability of bridges. The aim of the large-scale deployment is to show that the system can autonomously monitor loading experienced on the bridge, and that the sensors can collect information without too much human intervention and at a lower cost.

Several of the sensors' features make them attractive to infrastructure managers. Because they have no external power source, the sensors eliminate the issue of requiring battery changes or wiring to power sources. They also do not need wires to access the data they collect, as staff can access that information wirelessly. 

MBA staff will assist with installation of the additional sensors, offering both equipment and access to the bridge. The MBA will retain ownership of the data gathered by the sensors, with WUSTL providing the sensor prototypes and MSU providing tools to analyze and interpret that data for bridge staff to use in guiding engineering and maintenance decisions. The research team can use the data for research publication with approval from the MBA. The team plans to start installation of the additional and improved sensors this summer. 

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Source: Mackinac Bridge Authority

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