Of Australia’s almost 60,000 bridges, nearly 70 per cent are older than 50 years.

That’s a problem when vehicle use has exploded, and the ageing structures are carrying loads far beyond what they were originally expected to carry.

The Story Bridge looks over Howard Smith Wharves and the rest of the city.
The Story Bridge looks over Howard Smith Wharves and the rest of the city.Credit:Tony Moore 

But a new Queensland-based project plans to use artificial intelligence to update engineers in real-time about how each bridge is is coping under its load.

High-tech sensors across the bridges Skins Alive Infrastructure immediately upload their data to the cloud, where an AI assesses the information and sends immediate alerts to engineers.

The team was part of a recent CSIRO entrepreneur program in Brisbane.

The eight-week-long ON Prime5 program was aimed at creating links between science entrepreneurs and real-world problems and several Brisbane entrepreneurs took part.

Govinda Pandey from Skins Alive said nations were assessing their bridges after the August tragedy in the Italian city of Genoa. 

“We thought it was really important that we use technology to solve this integrity problem associated with infrastructure,” Mr Pandey said.

The problem with bridges was that they were such critical pieces of infrastructure, and so expensive to replace, that they were frequently used far beyond their predicted lifespans.

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“As a society we have to keep using them. We just don’t have the money to replace them,” he said.

Using the bridges meant many engineers would assess their risks “conservatively”, he said.

“But if you can actually measure the performance using sensors then you can remove that conservatism,” Mr Pandey said.

“You’ve got a better sense of what [a bridge’s] capacity is and using sensors, it can also give you information if there’s an anomaly or overloading event or if there’s going to be an imminent collapse.”

Mr Pandey said his company’s was not just limited to bridges but could be applied to mining and any other large-scale infrastructure if the cost of high-tech sensors could be brought down.

A single high-tech sensor could cost $500 and as an example, several hundred would be needed to place across the Story Bridge, he said.

But using artificial intelligence could reduce the need for multiple high-tech sensors and instead replace most with lower cost sensors that would then be coordinated by the AI.

This could also prevent high-cost infrastructure maintenance from being conducted unnecessarily, Mr Pandey said.

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