Smart Paint Alerts People When Infrastructure Is About to Break

Manish Prabhune/CC BY 3.0

How do you know when structures are about to snap, collapse, and otherwise bust apart? Unless there are intensive inspections happening at regular intervals, usually you find out when it happens and the damage is already done. But a new paint developed by researchers at Glasgow's University of Strathclyde could help alert people to the problem before it's too late.

Fast Co.Exist's Ariel Schwartz reports, "The paint, which is made out of carbon nanotubes and fly ash, is sprayed onto surfaces much like any other kind of paint. But this paint is special--it communicates wirelessly with battery-powered electrodes that are attached to the structure to detect structural micro-cracks... [A]ny changes in the paint’s electrical current--a sign of damage--are communicated to the electrodes, which in turn signal a problem to humans, who can then go check out the microfractures that before would have gone entirely unnoticed."

The researchers state that the pain is "environmentally-friendly" though we know that we don't know enough about how nanoparticles affect the environment. Still, the paint uses fly ash, which is normally considered a waste product. When mixed with the carbon nanotubes, the paint is cement-like and will stick to whatever you put it on even in tough environments. We'd like to know more, though, about what impact the paint might have on the environment as it is sprayed on and wears off of structures.

Even so, paint such as this could save a lot of time, energy, and yes, carbon emissions, with not having to get people out patrolling structures as much, especially in more removed areas like wind farms or distant bridges -- even mines.

Dr Mohamed Saafi, of the University’s Department of Civil Engineering, said: “The development of this smart paint technology could have far-reaching implications for the way we monitor the safety of large structures all over the world. There are no limitations as to where it could be used and the low-cost nature gives it a significant advantage over the current options available in the industry. The process of producing and applying the paint also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward.”

So far, only a prototype has been developed, but we may see the product tested and used perhaps in the near future.

Tags: Concepts & Prototypes | Technology

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