The “Internet of Things” (“IoT”) is in basic terms the connectivity of things and the flow of information to provide data and outcomes.
Internet enabled devices can, via a network, communicate with each other and produce outcomes without human intervention.
In the context of buildings, sensors for example can be readily used to activate emergency services and lightings.
However, can IoT sensors be used to give engineers solutions for designing structural integrity in buildings and be the silver bullet to human engineering intervention?
Unlike the profession of lawyers, who some see as a necessary evil, engineers are universally thought of as providing a safer and higher quality of living. So do IoT sensors spell the end for structural engineers?
The answer is a resounding “no” but IoT sensors are a valuable engineering tools and can provide data and mechanisms to empower structural engineers in providing a higher level of safety and service to building occupants.
Strategically placed piezoelectric sensors placed on a structure can be connected to the internet and provide valuable date for engineering modelling on structural stress and movement. The information can be used in conjunction with programs to trigger early an early warning systems which can be communicated via the internet to relevant people and organisations who can take immediate action as may be necessary.
Sensors via the internet can serve to be an early warning system as well as providing valuable modelling feedback for the implementation in engineering and developing new IoT systems.
In providing rapid, precise and low cost structural monitoring systems, the IoT provides engineers with a means of making structures safer and saving lives.
Apart from piezoelectric sensors, other sensors such as optical fiber, ultrasonic, laser, image detection, and vibrational sensors are can used and be connected to the internet to transmit data to a cloud or remote server. From there, the data can be used and shared as may be tailored/required.
IoT sensors can measure vibration, moisture, temperature, deflection, traffic, natural disasters, weight, pressure, leakage as well as other conditions. It really gives a structured voice to engineers via the internet.
The technology can be used with buildings, tunnels, dams and bridges. For example, in the case of bridges it can provide an early warning system and trigger closure of the bridge by internet connected barriers.
A solar panel can power a rechargeable battery to support the sensor(s) and Wi-fi transmitter to send data to the network. This enables a low maintenance and self-sufficient remote monitoring system, allowing for multiple sensors on locations that may not otherwise be easily and more cost effective and time efficient.
The IoT is a way of allowing engineers to design and build 'smart' structures. The more it is used, the more engineers can learn and develop the technology. The IoT also facilitates the sharing of information to allow engineers to learn faster and engineer superior outcomes.
The deployment of multiple sensors can enable engineers to remotely identify defects in a structure during and following construction when monitored data is utilised against pre-calculated and projected expected data/outcomes, so the IoT enables defect detection in a way that has never been seen before.
Another side benefit of IoT sensors is that they are environmentally friendly and save resources that would otherwise be required to be utilised. Thus, they are ‘green’ friendly which is great in today’s ever increasingly polluted environment.
IoT sensors are not hype and they will be utilised more and more for engineers to yield information from which they can continue to improve the quality of engineering throughout the world.