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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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  • Interesting, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Keri Immos ( 681622 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:37AM (#6204413) Journal
    This could be a very expensive and useless technology. The proposal for it and the quote by the professor who apparently invented it are reflective of the brick's function as more of a "black box", as in an airplane, rather than a useful tool. If the brick says the buildings about to fall, what can the owners do? 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. 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.

    In short, useless waste of money marketing FUD. Per norm for slashdot stories.
  • Hehe Smart Bricks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ( 681094 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:40AM (#6204429) Homepage Journal
    "Smart bricks" invented this technology! I can just picture the board meeting where they sat around talking about how they could sell bricks for $220 USD ea.

    Joking asside, construction material that provides feedback is likely better than construction material that does nothing but watch the paint flake.
  • by Peter Cooper ( 660482 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:41AM (#6204438) Homepage Journal
    The problem with technologies like these are that they're simply form factor adjustments of existing technologies.

    Currently you can very easily put temperature sensors (or even seismic detectors) in a building, but this project wants to put these items into a brick with a wireless connection. Is this really a story? Sure, such a brick might exist in every new building in the future, but you could have this in your home right now, in a small box containing the same gadgets. Putting it in a brick just doesn't seem that exiting, y'know?

    This is like the 'building a PC without a case' stories we see from time to time, but without the humor value of seeing someone mount a motherboard in a cardboard box.
  • by hubenshtein ( 671367 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @11:44AM (#6204454)
    I'm sure you could get insurance benefits for your building provided it was built with such bricks.
  • this is perfect (Score:2, Interesting)

    by the_2nd_coming ( 444906 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:15PM (#6204649) Homepage
    so not a hacker or the government can egt inside out homes and monitor our activities.....and law enforcment does not even need to bug a house they can just hack into the bricks.
  • by twitter ( 104583 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:18PM (#6204662) Homepage Journal
    Finally, a solution for all of those brick skyscrapers.

    It's called a curtian wall. It's not structrually bearing, but cinder blocks might be the cheapest way to do it. When you put them around a fire escape, they can keep you from cooking as fast.

    I'm not sure I want "vibration" sensors in my walls for the local police department, nosy neighbors or anyone else to listen to. My voice is a "vibration" and what I say in my house and place of work is for those around me, not big brother.

  • by ramk13 ( 570633 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:37PM (#6204760)
    I think you haven't really considered all the uses the researcher was discussing. Obviously if something catastropic happens, you are going to be able to get the general picture by standing outside. (fire, earthquake, etc.) But if there is a fire in a building, where is the fire? How long has it been burning? Is it safe to go in? After the fire, is the structure still sound? Were the materials degraded by heat? Embedded sensors can answer these types of questions, and if integrated correctly with the existing emergency systems, can easily save lives and in the long run probably save money. By getting a better picture of what condition a structure is in you can make better decisions on what need to be done to that structure (without having to make rough estimates afterwards).

    Granted embedding sensors is not a new concept, putting them in bricks is a new idea, and if it can be done cost effectively and reliably, it could be useful someday. Nobody said all ideas work, but don't write it off until it's actually been looked at in detail. That's why it's university research and not the product of a company. If it is a good idea we'll see it in 5, 10 or 15 years. If it's crap, it won't succeed.

    Calling it a 'useless waste of money marketing FUD' without looking at the big picture is the norm for slashdot comments.
  • Ad Hoc Networking (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:37PM (#6204763)
    The real development out of this is the application for ad hoc networking. A building full of sensors must be managed. Managing millions of bricks (or any trivial item), where each brick is effectively a base station will be a challenge. Overcoming this challenge will be very beneficial to our networking theory(not necessarily IP). This is step one for sensor networks.

    I applaud the effort however, I don't beieve this particular product is good but it is a start. Slapping a sensor onto the side of a brick doesn't seem like any real invention. THe sensor must be inside the material and completely unnoticeable (small). The sensors of the future will be extremely cheap and mass produced. It should add nothing to the cost of the material and should also have lots of developed applications to drive its deployment. This is a nice idea but shows how Universities (and academia) have no idea how to amke a sellable product.
  • by skepton ( 681359 ) on Sunday June 15, 2003 @12:40PM (#6204778) Journal
    If you look at the vibrations coming out of a building that is burning there is a huge jump in the amplitude of certain bands right before the building collapses.. there's basically a shift in the fundamental frequency of the building. A brick to detect this is gonna save alot of firefighters.

    Basically, any structure like a bridge or a building can be characterized pretty well by its frequency response. You stimulate it with an impulse and transform the output to the frequency domain. A burning building is being constantly stimulated, so detecting the vibrations with a brick in the wall is going to let you easily determine the frequency response.

    As you can imagine (this is a generalization) if there's a large spike in certain frequencies, the structure is unstable. When you engineer structures, you try and keep the frequency response flat.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.