Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Smart Roads. Smart Bridges. Smart Grids.

From the Wall Street Journal:

If we are going to spend billions of dollars to fix our ailing infrastructure, let's make sure we do it right. Here are the technologies to make that happen.

It's time the U.S. got a lot smarter.

Federal, state and local governments are about to pour tens of billions of dollars into the nation's infrastructure. The big question: Will we simply spend the money the way we've been doing for decades -- on more concrete and steel? Or will we use it to make our roads, bridges and other assets much more intelligent?

Imagine highways that alert motorists of a traffic jam before it forms. Or bridges that report when they're at risk of collapse. Or an electric grid that fixes itself when blackouts hit.

This vision -- known as "smart" infrastructure -- promises to make the nation more productive and competitive, while helping the environment and saving lives. Not to mention saving money by making what we've got work better and break down less often.

But fail to upgrade, advocates warn, and the country may be locked into the old way of building for decades to come.

"The goal is not just funding projects for short-term job gains," says Paul Feenstra, vice president of government affairs at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a group that promotes smart-road technologies. "It should be to create systems that are intelligent and improve productivity in the long run."

Powering the smart infrastructure are the latest advances in sensors, wireless communications and computing power, all tied together by the Internet. Not surprising, then, that the giants of the technology world -- International Business Machines Corp., General Electric Co., and others -- are leading the push for smarter infrastructure, joined by a host of civic planners and researchers.

Still, despite the big names behind the projects, immediate results are unlikely. Some smart-technology projects are "shovel ready" and could be deployed fairly quickly, but a lot of the technologies are still in the test or development phase and might not be available for five years or more.

With that in mind, here's a look at the kinds of technology leaps that could take our decades-old infrastructure to new levels of intelligence.


Traffic congestion cuts into worker productivity, delays deliveries, eats up gasoline and boosts air pollution. And it's annoying.

For decades, experts have argued that the best way to fight congestion is intelligent transportation systems, such as roadside sensors to measure traffic and synchronized traffic lights to control the flow of vehicles. But the spread of these technologies has been limited by cost. Now stimulus money could change all that....MUCH MORE, well worth the time.

HT: earth2tech