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[:es]Strain on ageing infrastructure from increasing population and “crazy weather” must be tackled head-on with mechanical sensors and not just outdated manual surveys, an expert has said.

Perched on a stool in a bustling Olympia exhibition centre in London, Manish Jethwa from asset management firm Yotta stressed the benefits that Internet of Things technology can bring governments managing old bridges, roads and streetlights – not just brand-new ‘smart’ infrastructure.

“The infrastructure assets we have today are under probably more strain than they ever have been,” Jethwa told PE at the IoT Tech Expo. “You really need to upgrade yesterday’s infrastructure with the technology of tomorrow.”

Physical inspections used by governments are no longer fit for purpose, he said. “You can’t close off a bridge so you can start inspecting it underneath, and be able to see corrosion and everything else. You need to get that information much more rapidly and in real time.”

Connected mechanical sensors offer live information, and, while governments might be keen to install the IoT tech in new infrastructure, Jethwa claimed they could reap major benefits by also linking up existing structures such as bridges and tunnels, which might last for 100 years.

Acoustic sensors monitor vibrations in structures, which can lead to devastating collapses. Machine learning on the cloud or ‘edge’ networks – closer to the infrastructure itself rather than hosted on a far-away server – can then set off alerts to authorities.

“The types of sensors they are embedding will typically be monitoring stress and strain,” he said. “As soon as you notice differences acoustically – the pattern of traffic moving over these structures, or within the structures in the case of tunnels – then they can really trigger those types of analysis.”

Data from sensors also informs predictive maintenance, which analyses vast amounts of collected information to suggest when components might need fixing. This approach can reduce unnecessary costs from inspections and ‘dumb’ regular maintenance, and ultimately save lives by preventing failures.

Road users also save time and money by travelling on routes with fewer regular disruptions, said Jethwa.

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