Smartphone Sensors for Monitoring Civil Infrastructure

A pair of University of Missouri researchers developed a way to monitor civil infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, with smartphone-based technologies. Photo courtesy of University of Missouri.

Scientists at the University of Missouri (MU) (Columbia, Missouri, USA) have devised smartphone-based technologies for monitoring the condition of civil infrastructure, including roads and bridges that have deteriorated due to age or general wear and tear. Such a monitoring system is timely in light of a recent report from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) that gave U.S. civil infrastructure systems a D+ rating.

This infrastructure monitoring technology consists of various sensors on smartphones such as gyroscopes, accelerometers, and tiny external infrared sensors. While motorists drive their vehicles, these various sensors are plugged into smartphones that collect data, which is then transmitted wirelessly to a central database.

Through these sensors, MU scientists can determine the makeup and deterioration of a road or bridge surface under real-time conditions. By crowdsourcing the data collection process, they hope to have enough data to better aid decision making regarding the health of civil infrastructure.

“Many of the existing methods to monitor our civil infrastructure systems have technical issues and are not user-centered,” says Amir Alavi, an assistant professor in MU’s College of Engineering. “People are looking for smart, cost effective, scalable and user-centered approaches. With current advances in technology, people can help monitor or detect problems using their own devices, and smartphone technology allows us to do that with civil infrastructure.”

In developing this technology, Alavi partnered with Bill Buttlar, the Glen Barton Chair in Flexible Pavement Technology. “With a smartphone, we can stitch together many inexpensive measurements to accurately assess things like the roughness or deterioration of a road surface,” says Buttlar.

Alavi and Buttlar’s work was funded by the Missouri Department of Technology (MoDOT) and published in Future Generation Computer Systems, a peer-reviewed scientific journal on the computer engineering industry.

Source: University of Missouri News Bureau,