High-tech checks on bridges, roads and tunnels: startups enter construction sites

High-tech checks on bridges, roads and tunnels: startups enter construction sites

High-tech checks on bridges, roads and tunnels

From satellites to drones, from augmented reality to big data: innovative companies change the recipe for monitoring infrastructure safety and saving on construction sites

Photo by Pexels from Pixabay Designing safer roads and bridges, saving time and money, constantly monitor the infrastructures to intervene quickly in the event of an alert. Technology, not just digital, is rewriting the building paradigm, which has always been one of the sectors least permeable to change. New software, cutting-edge materials, even the use of satellites among the possibilities already available to engineers and architects today. But between innovative ideas and new companies to be founded, training is often lacking. And, in some cases, regulations.

Integrated design

Bim is the name of the integrated methodology that is taking civil engineering into the future. No longer just two-dimensional drawings of elements and structures. The project includes all the information relating to plant engineering, energy consumption and maintenance, a sort of instruction manual that accompanies the work throughout its entire life cycle until it is decommissioned. The goal is to have fewer unforeseen events on the construction site, less uncertainty about times and costs, to the benefit, not least, of the procurement system.

The Bim (Building innovation modeling) approach will be mandatory for all new works from 2025. The entire life cycle will be defined already in the design phase. Big data will enter starting from the choice of the site where to build, as happened for the engineering campus of Browne University, in Rhode Island. The selection of innovative materials and the insertion of sensors during the construction site will lay the foundations for durable works that, in some cases, will even be able to repair themselves. Finally, a series of diagnostic and monitoring techniques will help ensure safety after opening to the public.

Italian companies are lagging behind. They know the approach, we read in a report published by AssoBim, however the methodology is still little applied. An opportunity for many young architects and engineers who have trained on these issues and who in some cases have decided to set up their own business, opening ad hoc consulting firms or developing solutions with the support of software houses.

Goodbye old concrete

Italy, explains Luigi Coppola, professor of building materials at the University of Bergamo, is among the leaders in innovation in the field of concrete. "Throughout the country there is the possibility of preparing it in ways that we could define as 'tailored'. Thanks to the choice of components and technological knowledge, blends are available that can adapt to any environment and seasonality: building in summer and winter, for example, are not the same thing, as well as building by the sea or in mountain ". The problem? Again, many of the available innovations are poorly understood. Even to insiders.

Yet technology releases innovations that were unthinkable until a few years ago. Like self-healing concrete: in the presence of small cracks, a sort of self-healing process takes place that allows a certain degree of repair of the damage. “Something similar to what happens with platelets”, summarizes the teacher. At the center of the interest of universities and companies in the sector, which work side by side, is sustainability. Research is focusing on solutions capable of combining the highest performance of the material with the reduction of environmental impact.

Using satellites to control bridges

To express yourself accurately on the state of a structure, use is made of in situ investigation techniques or samples taken during the inspection and subsequently analyzed in the laboratory. But some startups are exploring new technologies, such as satellites. GRed, a company based in the ComoNext incubator and led by Fernando Sansò, professor of hydraulic and environmental engineering at the Politecnico di Milano, has bet on it.

Gims, this is the name of the solution developed by the startup together with other partners European, is able to detect displacements of the earth's crust in the order of a few millimeters by integrating technologies usually used separately. It is precisely the combined use of different satellite systems (Gps and Galileo) that is the trump card of the project, which has already been successfully applied in Slovenia.

“Thanks to the signals received simultaneously in two points, we are able to reconstruct one displacement with a precision that can exceed one millimeter ”explains Sansò. A useful technology, for example, to monitor landslides, geological events whose duration can last for decades. “We have shown that you can achieve the same kind of accuracy as much more expensive equipment as long as you use complex software algorithms. Our software is suitable for receivers from 1,000-2,000 euros. Those of geodesic class cost several dozen ", adds the teacher.

The hardware developed by the Gims project is able to power itself with solar panels, collect data, send them to a computer center where they are represented graphically, and then send reports to the customer, which will be used for risk assessment. The startup raised € 2 million made available for 70% by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 program.

Check-up with drones

In the future they could be drones are the new allies of technicians. The most advanced versions are able to provide precise information and surveys, avoiding the use of scaffolding, reducing costs and reducing risks for workers. The National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development (Enea) is carrying out an experiment with drones in the Brasimone technology center in the municipality of Camugnano, near Bologna, to be used for environmental surveys and predictive maintenance of roads. highways, viaducts, bridges, reinforced concrete structures even nuclear power plants. The project is called Exadrone and arises from the partnership between the Brasimone Research Center and Metaprojects, a private research institution.

The obstacles, rather than technological, are normative. For an extended use it is necessary to put your hand to the puzzle of the regulations. "From our point of view, large-scale use will make sense when it can be carried out independently by the drone", explains Matteo Forte, CEO of Adpm Drones, a startup that has been operating in the sector for years and boasts active collaborations also important in the military field: “The device will be able to take off and take photographs or videos to be analyzed at a scheduled time interval or when certain events occur. But for the moment, the regulations stipulate that every time a drone flies there must be a pilot ”.

Anas is also studying the use of drones and flying poles equipped with wifi connection from which the aircraft could take off and return to monitor traffic, weather conditions and pollution.

Safety on site with virtual reality

Finally, there are virtual reality and smart glass applications for safety at work courses. Among the Italian companies that are beginning to make their way into the sector, 2045Safety Training, another startup incubated in ComoNext, or Sicurezza 3d. These are companies that design three-dimensional scenarios to be uploaded to smart glasses and can provide for the use of gamification to make training less heavy. Among the advantages of virtual training (which does not replace but integrates the traditional one) is also that of leaving the machines free, which then continue to work during the classroom sessions. Recently, Open Fiber has used smart glasses for remote testing of ultra-broadband networks.

A business for the big ones

But getting a reputation and exploding on the market is not easy for companies. small realities. Despite the blazon in the academic environment, appearing in front of giants able to offer monstrous packages is not easy: "These actors ask, rightly, for guarantees before entrusting a commission, let's say, from five hundred bridges", reflects Sansò. Guarantees that, for obvious reasons related to size, it is not always possible to provide.

For Gims, developers are looking for a partner to grow, perhaps with a view to open innovation. Sometimes specialization can play against. “It is important to propose practical and timely solutions that the managers of the sector can notice”, explains Lorenzo Triboli, associate of the Cross Border Growth Capital fund. For which the point is that “between winning a tender and raising capital there is a substantial difference. Many startups with a strong patent component come from universities, and tenders are usually awarded by scientists who speak the same language as researchers ”. The language of the market, however, is very different. The error is lurking. And there is a major one: making a mistake at the time of funding. “For this reason, many choose to bring a partner or manager with economic and business development skills into the team immediately. Making the right choices is important ”, Triboli points out. Which? “In my experience, trading the first capital increases under weak conditions can be dangerous if you don't take the right precautions. Often the money can be obtained. At the cost, however, of creating governance problems that will manifest themselves in the future ", concludes the expert. When the company will start to grow.

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Motorways Drones Gps Satellites Safety startup globalData.fldTopic = "Motorways, Drones , Gps, Satellites, Security, startup "

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