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UM engineer builds bridge sensors to give early warnings

Credit card-sized device would monitor stress, researchers say

August 16, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

"I like to see what can be done in a practical sense," he said. Discussions with friends pointed the way toward monitoring of infrastructure integrity, he said. Two years later, after additional research, he formed his company.

Takshi, 39, an Iranian immigrant who lives in Columbia, came aboard in 2009. The company has two patents pending for technologies connected with the sensors and expects to file for more, Kalantari said.

The next crucial step in Resensys' march to the market is the test on a Maryland bridge.

Jeff Robert, senior project engineer with the State Highway Administration's Office of Structures, said Kalantari has met with agency officials and explained his technology. He said the fact it is wireless and doesn't require batteries could make it useful.

"It looks promising in the laboratory but he needs to do actual field testing," the official said.

Robert said his agency has given the company the green light to install the sensors on the Interstate 495 bridge over the Northwest Branch in Montgomery County — a large steel truss structure that was built in 1957 and that poses difficulties for human inspectors.

"We thought this would be a good bridge to test it," Robert said.

Kalantari said the early indications from that test are positive and that the sensors have been able to detect the fluctuations in the stresses on the bridge supports between peak and off-peak hours. "We have had a constant stream of reliable data," he said, adding that he expects to add more Maryland bridges to the test program.

If the technology passes muster with the state, Robert said, the company would have to conduct further tests to win approval from the Federal Highway Administration.

Spokeswoman Nancy Singer said the federal agency is interested — but with a caveat.

"Sensor technology is evolving and can be beneficial in monitoring bridge conditions. Such technology represents an additional tool available to bridge owners but does not replace or supersede the need for regular, comprehensive visual and physical bridge inspections," she said.

Kalantari said that once Resensys gets beyond the pilot stage — in about a year or two — he hopes to find investors and expand the company beyond its current staff of four. When the company is ready, Kalantari said, he hopes Dye will help him recruit a chief executive officer.

The Maryland incubator has graduated such successful companies as Columbia-based Martek Biosciences Corp., a Nasdaq-listed company with an estimated market capitalization of $670 million, and Digene, a molecular diagnostics company that was sold in 2007 for $1.6 billion.

Dye suspects that Resensys could have similar potential.

"The state of the infrastructure, bridge, roads, railroads in the United States has not been maintained properly," Dye said.

Kalantari takes it a step further.

"It's not U.S., it's global," he said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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