Battery-free Antenna Sensors for Strain and Crack Monitoring of Bridge Structures (SN-2)

Universities: Georgia Institute of Technology
                           Missouri University of Science and Technology

Principal Investigator: Dr. Yang Wang, Georgia Institute of Technology

PI Contact Information: Phone: (404) 894-1851  |  Email:

Co-Principal Investigators: Dr. Reza Zoughi, Missouri University of Science and Technology
                                                        Dr. Genda Chen, Missouri University of Science and Technology

Funding Sources and Amounts Provided:
Georgia Institute of Technology: $74,624
INSPIRE UTC: $128,663

Total Project Cost: $203,287

Match Agencies ID or Contract Number:
Georgia Department of Transportation: TBD
Georgia Institute of Technology: In-Kind Match
INSPIRE UTC:  00055082-02A

INSPIRE Grant Award Number: 69A3551747126

Start Date: March 1, 2017
End Date:  December 31, 2018

Brief Description of Research Project:

Fatigue cracks need to be monitored in fracture critical elements. Previous research by the PI produced an RFID (radiofrequency identification) sensor prototype that can accurately measure tens of micro-strains in laboratory. The antenna sensor was made on a glass microfiber-reinforced polymer substrate. Although accurate for strain measurement and detection of fatigue cracks, the sensor performs less satisfactorily in field conditions since the substrate material (RT/duroid® 5880) is susceptible to thermal effect. In addition, a wireless interrogation distance by a general-purpose commercial RFID reader is limited to the order of meter, which is not desirable with the operation of a UAV. The commercial reader also weighs over 30 N and costs approximately $30k.

Approach and Methodology: A fundamentally new, battery-free, wireless strain/crack sensor is proposed for bridge monitoring. Unlike conventional smart sensors with wireless transmission of digitized data, the proposed sensor makes use of the strain-dependent (transducer-like) behavior of electromagnetic (EM) waves in an antenna. Upon illumination by a wireless reader that is carried by a human inspector or an aerial robot, the antenna sensor scatters an EM signal back to the reader. The radiation parameters of the antenna sensor, such as resonant frequency and backscattered power level, can be wirelessly interrogated by the reader. When bonded to a base structure to be monitored, a thin planar antenna sensor is deformed as the structure is loaded or experiences cracking. The deformation in a properly designed antenna can cause a significant and observable change of antenna radiation parameters.

Overall Objectives: This project aims to develop and validate a light antenna sensor (10 N) with new substrate materials that can be accurately interrogated at a desirable distance (over 30 m) in field applications, and develop and test a customized RFID reader that costs less than $3k for effective monitoring of bridges.

Scope of Work in Year 1: (1) Select a new substrate material (e.g. Taconic RF-35TC – a ceramic-filled fiberglass material) that provides steady performance under temperature changes, (2) Redesign an RFID antenna sensor and characterize its performance in temperature chamber or under tension tests, and (3) Validate the sensor performance with field testing of a few bridges near Atlanta.

Scope of Work in Year 2: (1) Test the performance of the new antenna sensor in application settings and compare it with the pervious sensor prototypes and metal foil gages, (2) Extend the wireless interrogation distance from 2 to 10s meters by introducing a new Van-Atta reflectarray technology, and (3) Characterize the strain sensing performance of the Van-Atta sensor with tensile tests.

Describe Implementation of Research Outcomes:
Research outcomes and implementation plan will be described towards the end of this project.

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation:
Impact/Benefits of Implementation will be summarized at the end of this project.

Project Website:
Progress Reports: