[BrickKicker Tech News] Do we inspect bricks?

  • From: "Jim Ratzloff" <tech@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <jr.brickkicker@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 8 Sep 2003 09:02:24 -0500

Greetings BrickKicker Team!
Hope all is going well.

Has joked with you recently about "Kicking Bricks!"

Here is a article about "smart bricks!" 

A bit of reading but I found it interesting.

What's next, smart toilets?

JR (Jim Ratzloff)
The BrickKicker of Naperville



Smart bricks could monitor buildings, save lives

Jim Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
(217) 244-1073; kloeppel@xxxxxxxx


Photo by Bill Wiegand
Chang Liu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, led the team
that developed a "smart brick" that could monitor a building's health and
save lives. 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. ? A "smart brick" developed by scientists at the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign could monitor a building's health and save

"This innovation could change the face of the construction industry," said
Chang Liu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois.
"We are living with more and more smart electronics all around us, but we
still live and work in fairly dumb buildings. By making our buildings
smarter, we can improve both our comfort and safety."

In work performed through the university?s Center for Nanoscale Science and
Technology, Liu and graduate student Jon Engel have combined sensor fusion,
signal processing, wireless technology and basic construction material into
a multi-modal sensor package that can report building conditions to a remote

The prototype has a thermistor, two-axis accelerometer, multiplexer,
transmitter, antenna and battery hidden inside a brick. Built into a wall,
the brick could monitor a building?s temperature, vibration and movement.
Such information could be vital to firefighters battling a blazing
skyscraper, or to rescue workers ascertaining the soundness of an
earthquake-damaged structure.

"Our proof-of-concept brick is just one example of where you can have the
sensor, signal processor, wireless communication link and battery packaged
in one compact unit," Liu said. "You also could embed the sensor circuitry
in concrete blocks, laminated beams, structural steel and many other
building materials."

To extend battery life, the brick could transmit building conditions at
regular intervals, instead of operating continuously, Liu said. The battery
could also be charged through the brick by an inductive coil, similar to
those used in electric toothbrushes and certain artificial heart pumps.

The researchers are currently using off-the-shelf components in their smart
bricks, so there is "lots of room for making the sensor package smaller,"
Engel said. "Ultimately, we would like to fit everything onto one chip, and
then put that chip on a piece of plastic, instead of silicon, to make it
more robust."

Silicon is a rigid, brittle material, which can easily crack or break.
"Sensor packages built on flexible substrates would not only be more
resilient," Engel said, "they would offer additional versatility. For
example, you could wrap a flexible sensor around the iron reinforcing bars
that strengthen concrete and then monitor the strain."

Liu and Engel have already crafted such sensors by depositing metal films on
flexible polymer substrates. Dubbed "smart skin" by its inventors, the
sensor material can be wrapped around any surface of interest, such as a
robotic finger.

"While a typical tactile sensor can only measure surface roughness, our
sensor material can determine roughness, hardness, temperature and
conductivity," Liu said. "The combined input gives you a much better idea of
the type of material being touched."

The researchers? smart skin is fabricated at the university?s Micro and
Nanotechnology Laboratory. Although the skin is not yet wireless, Engel is
working on the analog-to-digital conversion process to utilize existing
wireless technology.

The smart bricks, however, are fully wireless. In addition to keeping tabs
on a building?s health, applications include monitoring nurseries, daycares
and senior homes, and creating interactive "smart toys" that respond to the
touch of a child.

"In a smart doll, for example, sensor capability would distinguish between
caressing and slapping, allowing the doll to react accordingly," Liu said.
"In the gaming industry, wireless sensors attached to a person?s arms and
legs could replace the conventional joystick and allow a ?couch potato? to
get some physical exercise while playing video games such as basketball or
tennis. The opportunities seem endless."

The National Science Foundation funded the work. 



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