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Smart Bricks to Monitor Buildings of the Future 142

Roland Piquepaille writes "Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a "smart brick" which can monitor a building's health and report its conditions wirelessly. "This innovation could change the face of the construction industry," said Chang Liu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. "We are living with more and more smart electronics all around us, but we still live and work in fairly dumb buildings. By making our buildings smarter, we can improve both our comfort and safety." Built into a wall, these bricks could monitor a building's temperature, vibration and movement. Such information could be vital to firefighters battling a blazing skyscraper, or to rescue workers ascertaining the soundness of an earthquake-damaged structure. These researchers also think these devices could help monitoring nurseries, daycares and senior homes. You'll find more details in this summary."
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Smart Bricks to Monitor Buildings of the Future

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  • by SagSaw ( 219314 ) <slashdot@mmo[ ]org ['ss.' in gap]> on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:56AM (#6204545)
    If the brick says the buildings about to fall, what can the owners do?

    I think the idea would be to detect movement of the brick relative to other parts of the building. This would allow the owner to detect and have the opportunity to correct any structural problems well before the building is in any danger of collapse.

    The excuse that it helps firefighters is totally ridiculous, firefighters aren't going to have time to jack in to a network plug when they're trying to save lives.

    Remember, not everybody who works for a fire department rushes into burning buildings to save people. Some people at the scene are going to set up a command center. Presumably, the command center would be equipped to monitor such 'smart' building materials and relay important information to firefighters in the building.

    The other touted use it to sense vibrations. I don't know about you, but I know when there's an earthquake and when there's not, I don't need a brick to tell me.

    After a major earthquake occurs, buildings need to be inspected to determine how much structrual damage has occured. Knowing the magnitude and direction of the vibrations sensed at various parts of the building could help the damage assessment process.
  • by irexe ( 567524 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:29PM (#6204714)
    firefighters aren't going to have time to jack in to a network plug when they're trying to save lives.

    They do [] actually, or at least they try. They even have time to watch streaming video and infrared sensors. Had you thought your post through a bit, you could have imagined yourself that it obviously pays to know a hazardous situation inside out before you send in more bodies.

    The other touted use it to sense vibrations. I don't know about you, but I know when there's an earthquake and when there's not, I don't need a brick to tell me.

    I don't know about your specific seismic abilities of course, but for us mortals 'feeling' an earthquake usually means it is too late. That is why so many peopple still die of them. I'm not saying these bricks will solve the problem of early earthquake detection, but they at least stand a better chance at it than you do.

    In short, useless waste of money marketing FUD. Per norm for slashdot stories.

    FUD has become a very easy label to stick on articles people don't like, but it really makes no sense at all in this context, does it? Just as a reminder: you don't have to read the slashdot stories you don't like, o.k.? Just don't piss on a technology because you are not interested in reading about it.

  • Cinder blocks (Score:2, Informative)

    by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <`sd_resp2' `at' `'> on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:30PM (#6204721)
    Only one problem with cinder blocks ..... they are actually somewhat inflammable. The value of the energy in power plant ash is less than the cost of recovering it {though one would expect newer plants to make a better job of getting all the heat out of the coal} ..... but if you heat it up hot enough, it will start to undergo a chemical reaction with air ..... in other words, go on fire .....
  • Reletive Delta (Score:3, Informative)

    by inKubus ( 199753 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:45PM (#6204821) Homepage Journal
    Unless a brick can report its actual position and orientation in 3D space along with any delta since is was laid (better be none) you can't tell anymore about "settling damage" than with a visual inspection. But GPS down to the fraction of a centimeter is beyond what the military has access to.

    What about relative deltas. IE, you have 1000 bricks stacked up, and you monitor all of them. The wall starts bowing inward. If the bricks are capable of communicating with neighboring bricks and measuring how they are moving relative to each other, the problem is solved.

    If you add up all of the individual deltas, brick to brick, you end up with a curve which represents the total movement of the wall.. You wouldn't even need a fixed reference, although that would be useful to relate your new data to other external objects, like the earth, or another wall, or the roof..
  • Re:maintenance (Score:3, Informative)

    by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @01:06PM (#6204912) Homepage
    If they can be externally powered (like RFID chips on a larger scale), and use solid-state technology that, as greenpeace loves to point out, is not biodegradable, then they can probably last for quite a while.
  • Re:Hehe Smart Bricks (Score:2, Informative)

    by jakobk ( 553240 ) <> on Sunday June 15, 2003 @03:48PM (#6205937) Homepage
    At a highschool where I live, they bought special bricks for â150 each. And at the hichschool I attend, â9M are being spent to remove toxic PCBs. So yes, people are willing to waste money in this way.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford