WSJ.com has a special section on Smart infrastructure as part of the billions being spent on the stimulus package.
Smart Roads. Smart Bridges. Smart Grids.
If we are going to spend billions of dollars to fix our ailing infrastructure, let's make sure we do it right. Here are the technologies to make that happen.
It's time the U.S. got a lot smarter.
Federal, state and local governments are about to pour tens of billions of dollars into the nation's infrastructure. The big question: Will we simply spend the money the way we've been doing for decades -- on more concrete and steel? Or will we use it to make our roads, bridges and other assets much more intelligent?
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Imagine highways that alert motorists of a traffic jam before it forms. Or bridges that report when they're at risk of collapse. Or an electric grid that fixes itself when blackouts hit.
This vision -- known as "smart" infrastructure -- promises to make the nation more productive and competitive, while helping the environment and saving lives. Not to mention saving money by making what we've got work better and break down less often.
But fail to upgrade, advocates warn, and the country may be locked into the old way of building for decades to come.
"The goal is not just funding projects for short-term job gains," says Paul Feenstra, vice president of government affairs at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a group that promotes smart-road technologies. "It should be to create systems that are intelligent and improve productivity in the long run."
WSJ's Stacey Delo explores efforts to develop "smart intersections" which advocates hope can create a better informed driver and safer roads.
Powering the smart infrastructure are the latest advances in sensors, wireless communications and computing power, all tied together by the Internet. Not surprising, then, that the giants of the technology world -- International Business Machines Corp., General Electric Co., and others -- are leading the push for smarter infrastructure, joined by a host of civic planners and researchers.
The authors were cautious.
Still, despite the big names behind the projects, immediate results are unlikely. Some smart-technology projects are "shovel ready" and could be deployed fairly quickly, but a lot of the technologies are still in the test or development phase and might not be available for five years or more.
Here is a scenario that shows some of the environmental interest.
For instance, says John Cronin, the Beacon Institute's chief executive, power plants along the Hudson take in huge amounts of water for cooling, but in the process they can kill millions of young striped-bass larvae. So, the plants are under pressure to install expensive new cooling systems that don't pull in as much river water.
With a sensor network, officials could spot the tide of tiny bass larvae and notify the utility to shift power production to another plant until the creatures pass. The system would thus protect the fish -- and make the purchase of new equipment unnecessary.