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Northeastern Wins Multi-million Dollar Grant to Develop Critical Infrastructure Sensing Technology

Northeastern University has been awarded a $9 million federal research grant to develop new multi-sensor technology systems for cars and trucks that will allow for real-time assessment of road and bridge infrastructure across the country. Northeastern will lead the five-year VOTERS (Versatile Onboard Traffic Embedded Roaming Sensors) project along with a range of government, industry, and academic partners.

“This multi-million dollar federal grant is an investment in one of Northeastern’s greatest strengths: the discovery and development of knowledge that benefits society,” said Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun. “We are pleased to take the lead on this important project, which will do a great deal toward improving our nation’s infrastructure and advancing public safety.”

The need to restore and maintain urban infrastructure is identified by the National Academy of Engineering as an engineering Grand Challenge for the 21st century. The well publicized American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) 2005 Report Card gave the nation’s infrastructure a grade of D, estimating that a $1.6 trillion investment was required to address basic needed repairs.

Ming Wang, Ph.D., and Sara Wadia-Fascetti, Ph.D., both professors of civil engineering at Northeastern, will co-direct the project. The team, assembled from university, industry and government partners, will equip vehicles, such as city buses, with innovative multi-sensor technology systems that monitor surface conditions while the vehicle is in motion. The sensors will utilize acoustics and radar to monitor the roads and bridges under real driving conditions, looking for potholes and cracks in the concrete and other abnormalities that are in need of repair.

This new technology will eliminate the need for current inspection methods that involve hazardous and congestion-prone highway work zones. The commercialization of several new inventions is envisioned as the end-product of funding.

“The goal of this project is to create a cost-effective and safe way to monitor our civil infrastructure under normal driving conditions,” said Dr. Wang, principal investigator on the project. “This sensing technology will create a way to detect problems, both on the surface and subsurface, so that problems can be fixed more efficiently.”

Computers installed in the vehicles will control the sensors and a GPS system will pinpoint the collected data to very precise locations. Constant streams of data will be processed and reported back to base stations using a cellular phone system, which will then be analyzed so that timely repairs can be made in vulnerable areas.  

"New technologies combining civil, electrical and computer engineering are essential to solve the crisis in the nation's infrastructure. Northeastern's innovative research leadership through Professors Wang, Wadia-Fascetti, and their colleagues will serve the nation well," said David Luzzi, Dean of Northeastern’s College of Engineering.

 Northeastern will collaborate with various government, academic and industry partners on this project, including the Massachusetts Highway Department, Analogic Corporation, Infrasense Inc., and researchers at Boston University, University of Massachusetts at Lowell and University of Vermont, in addition to the primary Joint Venture partners.

VOTERS is part of the NIST’s Technology Innovation Program, which was recently established to support innovative and high-risk, high-reward research in areas with a critical need.   

Photo © iStockphoto/P_Wei


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