Michigan State University researchers have developed a technology that allows sensing, communication, and diagnostic computing — all within the building material of a structure.

Using energy harvested from the structure itself, the "substrate computing" system features sensors that continuously monitor and report on the building's integrity.

“Adoption of such monitoring has previously been limited because of the frequency of battery replacement for battery-powered sensors,” said Subir Biswas, professor of electrical and computer engineering, “as well as the need for a separate communication subsystem usually involving radio frequency sensor networks.”

In the future, the technology will be routinely used in building materials so that structures, such as bridges, will be able to detect and diagnose potential problems, without the need for an external energy source and a separate wireless sensor network. The researchers' goal is to integrate all of the functions within a 3 x 3-millimeter electronic chip, which can be embedded within the material of a structure.

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