Concrete may be one of the toughest buildings materials in common use but it does develop cracks over time, and in the case of structures such as buildings or bridges, it is imperative that those cracks are noticed before they lead to a collapse.
While visual inspections are useful, they are also time-consuming, and may miss tiny but structurally-significant cracks. Some technologies have been developed to automate the process, such as rust sensors for steel-reinforced concrete. Now, an international team of scientists is proposing a system of flexible crack-detecting skins, that could be applied to the surfaces of concrete surfaces.
Structures such as bridges would simply have pieces of the skin glued onto any areas where cracks were considered likely to occur. The skin would contain patterns of capacitive rectangular patches, arranged in different patterns within the skin, depending on the type of stress that was likely – patches oriented diagonally to one another would work best for detecting cracks caused by shear, whereas horizontally-joined patches would be better for detecting sag in horizontal beams, for instance.