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Brunel builds smart bridges

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An intelligent road bridge being developed at Brunel University London aims to thrust the technology its Victorian engineer namesake championed into the digital era.

The Welding Institute, construction giants James Fisher, and the engineering-led institution named after Isambard Kingdom Brunel, are working on a smart bridge.

But unlike Isambard’s iconic iron-and-stone constructions, such as Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, their bridge is a ‘digital twin’ of a real-life working road and rail bridge in Watford.

The physical bridge which carries London Underground’s Metropolitan line over the A4145 to Rickmansworth will be embedded with sensors to monitor safety, wear and tear. This data is fed via the cloud into algorithms that analyse the bridge’s structure and condition and map it in real time onto an exact virtual model, or digital twin.

“A working digital twin of a structure such as this is cutting-edge,” said Dr Miltiadis Kourmpetis at Brunel Innovation Centre. “The technology is still relatively new.”

The smart bridge will also help engineers head off potential problems before they strike by predicting how the real bridge will react to different weather conditions, amounts of traffic, ground vibrations and even if it’s hit in a collision.

The construction firm John Fisher will also be able to apply what it learns from the Watford smart bridge to the hundreds of other bridges it monitors across the UK transport network.

Backed by Innovate UK to the tune of £1.48 million, the 26-month project has just reached its halfway stage. The goal is to develop a product the transport and energy supply industries can use to keep a real-time virtual check on the safety of their structures.

“A digital twin is an evolving model of the historical and present behaviour of a structure constantly striving to improve its performance. It is indeed something we believe our namesake pioneering engineer would have been proud of,” added Dr Kourmpetis.

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Image from Google Maps

Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268176
hayley.jarvis@brunel.ac.uk