Intelligent building may ‘sense’ internal damage after earthquake

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Buildings of the future may be intelligent enough to sense damage after an event like an earthquake, thanks to a new computational model developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that may be used to monitor a building over time for signs of damage or mechanical stress.

“The broader implication is, after an event like an earthquake, we would see immediately the changes of these features, and if and where there is damage in the system,” said Oral Buyukozturk, Professor in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).

“This provides continuous monitoring and a database that would be like a health book for the building, as a function of time, much like a person’s changing blood pressure with age,” Buyukozturk noted.

The team tested its computational model on MIT’s Green Building — a 21-storey research building made completely from reinforced concrete — and published the results online in the journal Mechanical Systems and Signal Processing.

In 2010, researchers at MIT worked with the US Geological Survey to outfit the building with 36 accelerometers that record vibrations and movements on selected floors, from the building’s foundation to its roof.

To more accurately predict a building’s response to ambient vibrations, the group mined data from the Green Building’s accelerometers, looking for key features that correspond directly to a building’s stiffness or other indicators of health.

“We are continuously making our computational system more intelligent over time, with more data,” Buyukozturk said.

“We’re confident if there is damage in the building, it will show up in our system,” Buyukozturk noted.

So how has the Green Building fared since its construction more than 50 years ago?

“The building is safe, but it is subject to quite a bit of vibration, particularly in the upper floors,” Buyukozturk said.

“I would envision that, in the future, such a monitoring system will be instrumented on all our buildings, city-wide,” lead author Hao Sun said.

“Outfitted with sensors and central processing algorithms, those buildings will become intelligent, and will feel their own health in real time and possibly be resilient to extreme events,” he added.

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