- AT&T is testing a new offering, dubbed "AT&T Smart Cities Structure Monitoring," which will use Internet of Things (IoT) technology to monitor the safety of bridge, roadway and railway infrastructure.
- Battery-operated sensors will monitor structural factors such as cracks, temperature, joint movement and angle changes. The system will take readings every eight hours and send information — including alerts about unsafe structures — to city leaders.
- Other than improving safety, the system is intended to reduce the need for manual inspections and reduce operational costs.
AT&T plans to announce soon which cities have signed up to purchase the infrastructure monitoring service. Municipalities that purchase the system have the option to manage it themselves or to contract with AT&T for management services.
The integrity of America's transportation infrastructure has been a major concern for years and is becoming even more so as it continues to age without significant upgrades. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reports that nearly half of U.S. bridges are at least 50 years old. ASCE releases an infrastructure report card every four years and last year's assessment earned a "D+." The overall grade has been in the "D" range every assessment cycle since 1998.
The federal government also collects data on infrastructure integrity. Each year the Federal Highway Administration posts a list of every state's bridge conditions, noting how many are "good," "fair" or "poor." Few states managed to have the number of bridges in the good category outnumber those in the fair and poor categories. This federal administration has repeatedly stated that infrastructure is a priority and that an infrastructure plan is forthcoming.
Just last week a $75 billion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to fund bridge repairs throughout the country. The Bridge Investment Act is quite early in the process, but if passed it will provide a 10-year competitive grant program that will supplement state and local infrastructure investments.
Some states and municipalities are taking infrastructure safety into their own hands while waiting for news on a federal plan. Last year Iowa launched an interactive map showing the health of all of the state's 24,000-plus bridges. It was designed to easily explain to legislators the areas of most need in an attempt to secure project funding.
Funding is the perennial issue when launching large-scale projects, especially potentially pricey infrastructure upgrades. AT&T's new service provides a different solution to infrastructure problems for municipalities that secure the funding for installation, in addition to system operations and maintenance. Despite the ongoing costs, the automated system has the potential to be more reasonable than consistently performing manual infrastructure inspections and analyses.