The Victorian Government of Australia has committed AU$50 million to deploy tiny fibre optic sensors onto bridges across the state for early detection and prediction of problems, thus preventing costly repairs and helping bridge operators to efficiently manage maintenance budgets.
“This will help to detect problems earlier, reduce delays caused by road closures for manual inspections and repairs, and help to find problems more quickly and accurately in the case of bridge strikes or other unexpected events,” said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.
The state government has partnered with technology vendor Xerox on a joint venture named Eloque to commercialise the new technology that will remotely monitor the structural health of bridges.
“The technology has already been deployed on 7 bridges in Victoria and will be progressively deployed on priority bridges, particularly those that regularly deal with heavy loads and are at the most risk of deterioration. This is solving a major pain point for customers and allowing them to better manage their assets,” said VicTrack chief executive Campbell Rose AM, who has taken the role of CEO of Eloque to support the company through its early establishment.
The Eloque solution is an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology, that accurately measures and estimates structural strain, thermal response, bending, loads, vibration on bridges. Advanced analytics are then used to evaluate the sensors’ data and deliver insights directly to the bridge owners and operators in real time, to monitor whether a bridge is being over or underutilised, has structural problems or damage that needs repair.
Aging public infrastructure challenge
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, in the United States alone, 42% of all bridges are at least 50 years old, and nearly 231,000 bridges need repair and preservation work. This problem extends across the globe. An estimated 70% of Australia’s bridges are more than 50 years old, around 11,000 of Germany's 25,000 rail bridges are over 100 years old, and 7% of bridges in France are already at risk of collapse.
“Aging and deteriorating public infrastructure is a global problem. We are pioneering technology that maintains the safety of bridges, extends their useful life and positively impacts planning,” said Xerox vice chairman and CEO John Visentin. “Our partnership with the Victorian Government not only allows us to solve this problem for Victoria, but also rapidly expand to customers around the world facing these challenges.”
The technology was developed at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and trailed through a partnership between Xerox and VicTrack, the Victorian Government state-owned enterprise that owns all railway and tram lines in the state. PARC’s solution uses sensors and advanced analytics to monitor structural health in bridges to optimize asset life.
“While our initial focus will be rail and road bridges, Eloque’s technology is versatile and we plan to adapt it for use on other critical structures in the future,” said Ersin Uzun, general manager of IoT for Xerox and Board Member of Eloque. “We are already looking to expand the technology to tunnels, ports, multi-story parking garages and other critical infrastructure assets.”
Xerox is the majority owner of Eloque, and this is part of its strategy for broad entry into the IoT market with new industrial offerings. Last year, Xerox also announced that PARC is working with the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the development of a technology that can enable large scale monitoring of seas under the Ocean of Things program.