August 19, 2009

Water system sensors to be tested

University of California-Irvine engineers say they've developed a sensor system designed to help protect water systems when earthquakes occur or pipes fail.

The engineers said they plan to outfit the Irvine, Calif., water system with sensors that will alert officials when and where pipes crack or break, hastening repair.

When an earthquake occurs and infrastructure systems fail, continued service of the water network is most critical, said Professor Masanobu Shinozuka, who is leading the project. Before anything happens, I'd like to have a pipe monitoring system in place to let us know when and where damage occurs. It could minimize misery and save lives.

Shinozuka and Associate Professor Pai Chou said they have created CD-sized sensing devices that attach to the surface of pressurized (drinking water) and non-pressurized (wastewater) pipes. The sensors detect vibration and sound changes that could indicate pipe problems. Through antennae, the sensors relay information wirelessly over long distances to a central location for recording, processing and diagnostic analysis.

As the research progresses, the team plans to develop methods of rapidly repairing pipe damage at joints and other vulnerable locations.

The project is being funded by a nearly $5.7 million, three-year grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as several local water groups.