Software for safe bridges

Nov 03, 2008
Cracks in bridges are far from unusual. A new software program can now help to identify such damage at an early stage. Credit: Fraunhofer ITWM

Spanning deep gorges, rivers and freeways, bridges are an indispensable part of the traffic network. Yet their condition in Germany is appalling: In a survey carried out by the German automobile club ADAC in 2007, one in ten bridges out of the fifty that were inspected failed the test; a total of four were rated "poor" and one was even rated "very poor". The changing effects of weather and temperature, road salt and the increasing volume of traffic all take their toll on the material – quickly causing damage such as hairline cracks, flaking concrete, and rust penetration. If the bridge engineers fail to recognize these in time, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are endangered.

Until now, inspectors have always examined a bridge for visible damage directly on site. They cover cracks, for instance, with adhesive strips that expand if the crack gets larger. A new image processing program is set to make these inspection measures unnecessary in future.

Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM in Kaiserslautern have developed this software jointly with fellow scientists from the Italian company Infracom. "The software automatically examines the photos of a bridge for certain characteristics and irregularities, for instance marked discoloration," explains ITWM scientist Markus Rauhut. "Unlike a human, the tool doesn't miss any abnormalities – even minor damage is identified and signaled."

The challenge is that no two bridges are alike. They differ in terms of their shape, construction material and surface structure, while the color depends on the material, the dirt or fouling, and the degree of humidity. The software has to be able to handle these discrepancies. To make this possible, the researchers have extracted metrics from photographs that include the characteristically elongated shape of a hairline crack, the typical discoloration in damp places, and the structures of the material – which are different for a concrete bridge than for a steel bridge. All of this information is now stored in a database.

When the researchers load a photo into the program, the software compares the features of the new image with those of the saved images. If it detects any irregularities, it marks the respective area on the photo. The bridge inspector can now decide how serious the damage is. Does something need to be done? The faster any damage is identified and clearly categorized, the simpler and less expensive it is to repair it. The engineers have been using the new software successfully for the past six months to inspect bridges in Italy.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Explore further: Fiber-optic microscope will help physicians detect cancer, diseases at early stages

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Minority languages fight for survival in the digital age

Feb 17, 2014

Language is about much more than just about talking to each other; it's one of the bases of identity and culture. But as the world becomes increasingly globalised and reliant on technology, English has been ...

Opening a window into vector-borne viruses

Apr 12, 2013

Agricultural Research Service scientists in New York and California have developed very different technologies that share a common thread. They offer scientists new, innovative ways to probe what happens ...

Apple's Maps fiasco and the mobile arms race

Oct 16, 2012

A sense of vindication has most likely spread throughout the headquarters of Google in Mountain View, Calif., after reports surfaced that Apple's new Maps app contained glaring imperfections, such as removing ...

Recommended for you

Smart sensor technology to combat indoor air pollution

Apr 14, 2014

Indoor air quality (IAQ) influences the health and well-being of people but for the last 20 years there has been a growing concern about pollutants in closed environments, the difficulty in identifying them ...

Drones used to assess damage after disasters

Apr 11, 2014

Researchers of the University of Twente use a new method to map structural damage after disasters. A remote-controlled drone with a regular high-quality camera takes a large amount of pictures of a building. ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...