University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) researchers have been awarded $5 million by the Department of Defense Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to conduct research that will extend the lifespan of bridges through new monitoring technology.

The research project, headed by UNO College of Information Science and Technology Professor and Director of the School of Interdisciplinary Informatics Robin Gandhi, Ph.D., and UNL College of Engineering Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs Daniel Linzell, Ph.D., will demonstrate how to identify and reduce risks and the cost benefit of integrating technology on aging rural bridges. While these systems would provide some efficiencies – like early detection of potential safety hazards – they could be vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.

The research project, titled “Multilevel Analytics and Data Sharing for Operations Planning (MADS-OPP),” will use rural Nebraska bridges as full-scale “testbeds” and allow researchers to monitor data collection processes at the edge using Internet of Things (IoT) powered tools including sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and more; secure data processing and management from the edge to the cloud; visualizations and analytics of data using machine learning; and socio-technical impacts (e.g., fairness of data, algorithms, and analysis).

The project will allow for predictions of remaining bridge life and guidance for maintenance using secure communications and protected data systems. Their work will also provide mission-critical data that can be utilized by the Department of Defense as well as public and private stakeholders to better prioritize their budgets, protect bridges and, most importantly, ensure the safety of citizens who travel on them.

Funding for the project was included in the 2021 Senate Defense Appropriations Bill.