Inspection technology by Louisiana Tech researchers to examine buried infrastructure

January 09, 2009

An innovative underground scanning technology developed by Louisiana Tech researchers is the cornerstone of a technology development and commercialization project that has secured one of only nine Technology Innovation Program (TIP) grants awarded nationally by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

"$3.2 million has been secured for this project, of which nearly $900,000 will flow to Louisiana Tech over the next three years," says Dr. Erez Allouche, associate professor of civil engineering and associate director of Louisiana Tech's Trenchless Technology Center.

Allouche, along with Drs. Arun Jaganathan, Neven Simicevic and Klaus Grimm, is partnering with Elxsi Corporation of Orlando to develop a deep-penetrating scanning system, based on a new technology called ultrawideband (UWB) pulsed radar. This technology will allow for the inspection of buried pipelines, tunnels, and culverts to detect fractures, quantify corrosion, and determine the presence of voids in the surrounding soil.

The project, called FutureScan, incorporates leading-edge simulation, electronics, robotics, signal processing, and three-dimensional (3-D) rendering technologies in a package that can be mounted on existing pipe-inspection robots.

A patent on this new technology is currently pending. This is the first attempt to commercialize UWB for the inspection of municipal pipes around the world.

Using highly directional electromagnetic pulses and special signal-processing algorithms derived from mine and bomb detection technology, the technique can "see" through solid objects and measure both surface and internal structural integrity.

"Our project will greatly increase the ability of municipalities and DOTs to detect developing sink holes around buried pipes before they propagate to the surface and cause collapse of the roadway," explains Allouche.

The consequences of pipeline failure range from disease-causing water pollution to sometimes fatal highway accidents. The United States has over one million miles of buried pipes carrying water to cities, towns, and homes.

"In addition to the federal funding [Louisiana Tech] receives, this award will also mean the establishment of new technical positions, the creation of a new start-up company in Tech's incubator, and the potential for a leading-edge technology, developed at Louisiana Tech, getting into markets around the world," adds Allouche.

TIP was created to support innovative, high-risk, high-reward research in areas of critical national need where there is a clear interest because of the magnitude of the problems and their importance to society.

Allouche appreciates the prestige and exclusivity that this program carries.

"The high dollar value attracts proposals from the best academic institutions in the nation. This award is another example of the growing ability of Louisiana Tech to develop innovative technologies and bring them to a market-ready status."
The Trenchless Technology Center (TTC) at Louisiana Tech University was created to promote research, development and technology transfer in the trenchless technology industry. In addition to its research activities, a strong effort has been focused towards the education of engineers, contractors, government agencies and others about the availability and capability of trenchless methods for the solution of difficult underground infrastructure problems. The Center has also worked with various organizations in evaluating and developing new technologies for the industry.

Louisiana Tech University

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