Tarek Abdoun, assistant professor and manager of
Rensselaer’s Geotechnical Centrifuge Research Center, is
leading a team of scientists to develop a wireless sensor
designed to warn against geotechnical hazards such as
earthquakes, landslides, and floods. The research team includes
Alhussein Abouzeid, assistant professor of electrical,
computer, and systems engineering, and Mourad Zeghal, assistant
professor of civil and environmental engineering.
“Recent advances in sensors and wireless networking
technologies provide opportunities for new ways to detect and
assess the impact of natural disasters,” says Abdoun. “The new
system is designed to enable a better understanding of ground
failure mechanisms and has the potential to significantly
reduce losses from natural disasters.”
The team’s sensor is a long rope about one inch in diameter
consisting of various sensors and packed into PVC piping. The
system is water-resistant and can be inserted into the ground
up to 30 meters. The advanced sensor uses fiber-optic and
micro-electro-mechanical-system technologies to simultaneously
measure key indicators of impending ground failure — ground
deformation and soil acceleration. Each sensor is connected to
a wireless node to enable real-time monitoring, as well as
remote sensor configuration.
“Real-time monitoring would allow for early detection and
warning of geotechnical hazards, such as landslides, and help
facilitate evacuations,” says Abdoun.
According to Abdoun, real-time remote monitoring could
replace manual sensors used by many state and federal agencies
and eliminate the need to physically visit each site to take
measurements and readings. The traditional manual systems
provide limited monitoring capability — sensing acceleration or
deformation readings, not both — and prove to be expensive, he
says. Initial estimates indicate the new prototype would cost
less than one-tenth of traditional sensors.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and California’s Department
of Transportation are sponsoring the field implementation
effort of Rensselaer’s new system at four different sites.
The new system was recently tested at the National Research
Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention in Tsukuba,
Japan, home of the world’s largest shake table for earthquake
simulation. The team’s work was recently featured in the
September 2004 edition of Civil Engineering, the
magazine of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Originally published in
Rensselaer Magazine, Winter 2004