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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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:43AM (#6204446)
    The more technology takes over peoples lives the happier I am. Things like this mean that there will always be jobs for us geeks no matter what.

    Fuck the recession, there is no recession!
  • maintenance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:46AM (#6204471)
    Bricks can last for literally hundreds of years with little to no maintenance. Anyone want to put bets on the lifetimes of these worthless gadgets?
  • inflexible (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:50AM (#6204504)
    Built into a wall, these bricks could monitor a building's temperature, vibration and movement.

    ...and built into a wall, there's no way to fix the 'brick' when it breaks down and stops working. All of the above functions can be performed by sensors ON the wall,floor, ceiling, etc- or post-construction inside the wall, accessible via an access panel. Or you can make a brick that's not completely 'built in'- ie, you make a place for it, a box or something- and the sensor can still be serviced, you still get advantages of easy installation, etc.

    So maybe you put a slew of them in-I suppose ease of installation counters the increased cost of deploying more of them. But still, that's great- now you've raised the chances that one of them will fail(since there are more of them)...and they're possibly more unreliable, and accuracy or precision will be worse since, well, you made 'em cheaper.

  • by d'fim ( 132296 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:53AM (#6204521)
    Why not just add sensors to the existing power and/or data infrastructure? Like the safety device vendors are already doing? Bricks could be used to supplement that, but using these bricks in place of existing technology seems silly.
  • Grandma was right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Embedded Geek ( 532893 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:24PM (#6204694) Homepage
    Whenever she was concerned about being overheard, my Grandam would caution us: The walls have ears.

    Who knew - the old girl was right.

  • by monkey_jam ( 557265 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:45PM (#6204823)
    Did you think of the possibility of embedding wireless thermometers/motion sensors/microphones in them so that in the event of a building collaps, you have a small sensor network listening for signs of life?

    I'm claiming prior art on this one.
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @01:13PM (#6204939) Homepage Journal
    SO it would be rather easy to monitor conversations in buildings.

    Especially when there is more then one brick, then you could triangulate the speaker, and filter out noise. And report back any 'suspicious conversations, even in a private home.

    Then add the ability to track the chips that will eventually be implanted in people, then you got instant 'undesirable' tracking in every building.

    I feel so much safer now. Don't you?

  • What are the odds? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ccnull ( 607939 ) <null&filmcritic,com> on Sunday June 15, 2003 @01:31PM (#6205015) Homepage
    What are the odds that, 50 years from the time the bricks are installed, the technology will still be around to access the data from the brick? The information will probably be most useful once the building really starts to decay -- if this technology had been around 50 years in the past, we'd all still need room-sized mainframes in order to access the data our buildings are providing us -- or, failing that, we'd need to rip out all the smart bricks and upgrade them with new ones. Either way, $$$... The wireless technology alone will be obsolete within 3-5 years, I'm sure.

    Just a thought...
  • Your assertions are currently well enough covered by good old expertise and shoe leather. Buildings tend to already have inspection systems known as superintendents, or facilities departments with workers and a manager. Cheaper and more reliable options for inspection can and ARE being fulfilled with periodic Human involvement and sensors. This would still be the case with so-called automated sensors ... as you well know, data doesn't inspect itself; somebody has to look at it.

    The "smart brick" is a OK idea that unfortunately will be touted as a wholesale replacement for current, perfectly functional systems. Temperature, vibration and movement doesn't have to be measured by some expensive high-tech brick, but can be measured by other systems already extant in the building, which can be added later and also moved around as needed.

    Really, this brick thingie is another fine indicator of our cultural sickness in which we think that technology is the magic pill that makes for a better life. To arrest the disease of technophilia, we need to recognize two things:
    1. Tech tends to best fulfill niche markets ... under the Principle of Limited Applicability.
    2. The fork and spoon at the dinner table simply can't be replaced with a better system not matter how sexy the tech behind it ... under the Principle of Maximum Optimization.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.