Student Invents Earthquake-Powered Stress Sensor for Buildings

martinluff/CC BY-SA 2.0

A novel way to monitor damage to buildings during earthquakes has been invented by a fourth-year student at Victoria University in New Zealand. Currently, all sensors that transmit information on building stress during earthquakes are powered by batteries or are plugged into the building's electricity supply, but Daniel Tomicek has come up with a way for those sensors to be powered by the earthquakes that they're monitoring.

His sensor runs off of vibrations and is very low power, so when everything is still, the sensor stays turned off, but when an earthquake hits, the vibrations would power it on and for as long as the earthquake lasted, it would transmit data about the force of those vibrations. That information would let engineers understand what kind of damage a building was sustaining during an earthquake event.

Victoria University explains:

The sensor harnesses the energy of the building’s movement during an earthquake to power itself, measuring the acceleration of the movement, and transmitting information in the form of data packets to an off-site computer. The data can then be used by engineers to help assess the extent of damage to the building.

When earthquakes occur, the energy harvested from the vibrations activates the wireless transceiver to transmit the data packets which contain the sensor’s identifier. The greater the vibrations, the greater the energy harvested and the more packets that are sent.

Tomicek has worked with his professors to build a prototype that they are testing at Te Papa’s Earthquake House in its Awesome Forces exhibit, which simulates earthquakes.

“Testing at the Earthquake House was a real success. The device managed to sense each earthquake and send packets of information for each one," Tomicek said.

Tags: Buildings | Renewable Energy | Technology

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