Oregon State Studies Bridge Failures

Nancy Anderson
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Oregon State University (OSU) is developing new technology that would allow a single technician to more accurately assess the structural soundness of a bridge in far less time than it would traditionally take an engineer performing a traditional survey. With each passing year, the country’s transportation infrastructure gets older, and more and more we find ourselves worried that another disaster like the Minneapolis bridge collapse is just around the bend.

The OSU study has so far shown that bridges are more likely to collapse due to a failure not in the more well-studied struts and beams, but in the connections and fasteners used to the connect them to each other. Such was the case with the Minneapolis collapse [Minnesota Public Radio]. In fact, Physorg’s article on OSU’s technology program points out that the failed connector was right near an inspection ladder.

The OSU system uses computer-aided inspection and machine vision to inspect the plates, and make a rapid assessment of the structural integrity. As many of the bridges in the country today, especially those on the interstate system, were designed 50 to 60 years ago, they are reaching the end of their functional lives, and the OSU system could be used to prioritize repair and replacement, saving millions, and potentially averting disastrous consequences of a failure.

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Mike Wrightly is mostly diesel fumes and duct tape; he grew up around heavy equipment, and holds a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering.

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