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The use of Internet of Thing (IoT) technology in this and many other projects is due in part to the advancement of communications technology which has increased connectivity of people - ie, we all now have mobile phones and access to apps and data. It’s also due to the costs of hardware continuing to come down. This makes it is possible to increase the connectivity of things (ie, in this project it was sensors). Being able to use a greater number of sensors and a more capable communications networks provides the ability to access much more information than ever before. However, Runcie says: “In order for IoT technology to be really useful, we need to pay a lot of attention to how the data is analysed and how information is then made available to users in meaningful and useful ways.”

niques that can be applied. If new analytical algorithms are needed they can be developed and easily implemented as software in the system,” he says. Although it is a bit of a conceptual mind shift for engineers and some asset owners, Runcie points out that data-centric analysis techniques such as this are complementary to more traditional approaches and provide new insights into the condition and performance of structures.

IoT technology with environmental impact

How was the system designed? The NICTA-developed system uses a combination of low-cost sensors (about 2400 required to monitor this part of the bridge) and several data analysis techniques, including machine learning, to analyse vibrations caused by traffic passing over the bridge. Using innovative algorithms and simple components, the system can detect movements in the concrete deck that are considered to be abnormal, while ignoring normal movements due to vehicle traffic. “Off-the-shelf equipment was too expensive then, and still is unaffordable,” said Runcie. “So we designed and built some hardware and a new sensing system using accelerometers (inexpensive accelerometers like you will find in a mobile phone). Each accelerometer is controlled by a small computer, also low-cost technology, which just a few years ago would not have been feasible. “All the sensors are connected by weatherproof ethernet and a fibre-optic network. Some data is processed by the computers on site and the results of that processing together with some of the raw sensor data is sent back to NICTA’s data centre in Canberra.” Data analysis is the key that unlocks the value in all the data that is collected. NICTA’s machine learning research group has recently been recognised as being in the top five in the world. This team of scientists has developed new analytical techniques that have been applied here. “The neat thing about machine learning analysis is that it is a data-driven approach that can be applied even when the physical structure or system is very difficult or not feasible to model in an engineering sense,” says Runcie. If any anomalous readings are detected, the asset manager and bridge inspectors


are notified by email and text message so they can schedule an inspection. They also have a web-based application to monitor the bridge - this is a decision support tool that helps bridge management schedule maintenance resources. “What RMS wanted us to do was to interpret the information for them and just give them the answer that they wanted,” says Runcie. In other words they wanted to know: Do I need to go schedule an inspection or don’t I? The system is therefore designed to be easy to use for the asset manager. Basically, it provides a web page that shows the map of the bridge which is colour coded. “If it’s all green, everything is good; if orange, it means that some anomaly has been detected and an inspection should be scheduled,” says Runcie. “They still do their two-yearly inspection but this just gives them additional situational awareness in a form they can understand.”

Can this technology be applied to other applications? This technology is certainly applicable to other bridges and structures around Australia and internationally says Runcie. “The data that is needed for each application is going to be different. For example, it may not be the vibration around the joint that is important, it could be stresses and strains, fatigue cycles or corrosion that’s important, or some combination of these. It could even include other information such as maintenance and inspection records, loading or environmental information. The analytical techniques are then adapted for each application. “We have made the system design generic in terms of the sensors and data sources that can be used and also the analytical tech-

Drones have been capturing the headlines lately with concerns over privacy and security. However, when drones are incorporated with innovative optical sensor technology, some surprisingly positive solutions are possible. One such solution being developed in Australia could also have a real-world impact on environmental issues that concern many industries. The development is closely connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) because it uses high-tech sensors on drones to provide accurate real-time information about greenhouse gas emissions that can be interpreted and mapped into real-time 3D images for easy analysis. The technology has been specifically designed for wastewater treatment in Melbourne; however, there is potential for many similar applications at sites such as agricultural, oil and gas pipelines, landfills and mines. Inspired and funded by a challenge set by Melbourne Water under the Victorian Driving Business Innovation scheme, industrial designers Outerspace Design and sensor experts Wirriga joined forces as Draco Scientific to come up with a solution. Dr Maryanne Large, chief scientific officer at Draco Scientific, says the group of scientists that formed this company wanted to do something that had an impact on some of the big environmental issues.

What was the challenge? While Melbourne Water is already progressive with its green agenda, it believes it is possible to do more, explains Large. It may be able to sequester an additional 10-20% of methane (CH4) from the sewage lagoons for its bio-gas power station at the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee. Better monitoring could also provide a more accurate picture of its baseline CH4 and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions at the plant. N2O and CH4 are potent greenhouse gases that are harmful to the environment; CH4 can also be a significant safety risk and its loss also represents the loss of a valuable fuel.

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Sustainability Matters Dec2014/Jan2015  

Sustainability Matters is a bi-monthly magazine showcasing the latest products, technology and sustainable solutions for industry, governmen...

Sustainability Matters Dec2014/Jan2015  

Sustainability Matters is a bi-monthly magazine showcasing the latest products, technology and sustainable solutions for industry, governmen...