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Source : Michael Petrila on Flickr
March 28, 2023
Author : Patty Allen
Concrete roads have several benefits, making them a popular construction material choice for building roads and interstate highways in America. But it has certain drawbacks.
Concrete's tensile strength is extremely low compared to many other building materials. This means concrete is prone to chipping and cracking, causing damage that can worsen over time.
Potholes are a typical problem with concrete surfaces. They form when water penetrates the upper surface of a concrete road, becomes stuck, freezes, and causes damage. Because concrete is not porous, this water has nowhere to go once it permeates inside.
Concrete that isn’t well-rested after construction can wear out even faster.
An invention from Purdue University’s researcher Luna Lu is about to change concrete usage in constructing American roads. It has the potential to save millions of dollars for taxpayers and significantly reduce traffic delays.
Their invention includes sensors to determine when a section of the concrete interstate highways is suitable for heavy traffic, and it will be tested in nine US states. These are Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota, California, Tennessee, Utah, and Colorado.
Indiana and Texas have already started using these sensors.
The purpose of inventing this so-called "talking concrete" is to inform the engineers when a section of the road is hardened enough for heavy traffic to ply on it.
The sensors are attached to rebar or formwork and are buried under the pour; it transmits information about the concrete condition directly to a smartphone app. It allows the concrete to “talk”, reducing construction time and helping engineers understand how often concrete pavement requires repairs. Additionally, it improves road sustainability and reduces its carbon footprint.
The current approach has been used for over a century, where laboratory testing of a collected concrete mix determines how long it will take to cure a road before public access opens.
However, a difference between laboratory and outdoor site circumstances results in inaccurate estimates, leading to premature road opening and early damages. Repairing concrete roadways is way more complicated than asphalt ones.
Civil engineering professor Luna Lu and her lab started developing this technology in 2017 when the Indiana Department of Transportation asked for help preventing premature failure of newly repaired concrete pavement by accurately calculating its suitability for heavy traffic and the right time to open to the public.
Lu said the new technology would alleviate traffic congestion, saving nearly four billion hours and three billion gallons of gasoline annually due to an inadequate understanding of concrete's strength levels.
Concrete pavement accounts for less than 2% of US roads but nearly 20% of the US interstate system, according to Federal Highway Administration (FHA) data. More than half of the states in the United States with concrete interstate pavement have agreed to take part in an FHA study to use the sensors.
This new technology will be introduced in the market later this year in the name of the REBEL Concrete Strength Sensing System, a product of Lu's WaveLogix. It will decrease road repairs and construction timelines, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions while waiting in traffic to get around a construction site—also, the manufacturing of cement results in 8% of the world's carbon footprint.
WaveLogix invented a solution by utilizing artificial intelligence to enhance the design of concrete mixtures based on information gathered by the sensors from the nation's roads.
Lu said, "I feel a strong sense of responsibility to make an impact on our infrastructure through developing new types of technology. In the field of civil engineering, if we don't make an impact on the world, there won't be a world to worry about."