IBM invests in infrastructure sensing and analysis tech

With Carnegie Mellon University, IBM will develop monitoring systems for buildings, water lines and other infrastructure

IBM will develop technology to monitor and analyze the state of buildings, roads, water lines and other urban infrastructure in a new laboratory it is opening with Carnegie Mellon University.

The IBM Smarter Infrastructure Lab will focus on two areas of research, said Wayne Balta, an IBM vice president in charge of corporate environmental affairs and product safety. The lab will develop sensors that can provide more data on the state of infrastructure. It will also create software and system processes that can analyze the data in ways that would allow public utilities, cities and municipalities to manage their infrastructures more efficiently.

Water and sewage pipelines, electric grids, buildings, road ways and other forms of infrastructure would all benefit from greater computer analysis, Balta said. For instance, sensors could pinpoint a water leak that a city could quickly repair.

IBM will declined to state how much the company will be contributing to the new project, but it will be contributing expertise from its IBM Research unit, as well as hardware and software, to the lab, Balta said

From CMU, the lab will tap academic experts in engineering, architecture, public policy and business. The lab will also invite experts from government to participate as well.

IBM hopes that the technologies and expertise that emerge from the lab will help the company implement more smart infrastructure-based systems, Balta said. Third-world countries that are just starting to put modern infrastructure into place could especially benefit from these new technologies, because no retrofitting would need to be done.

The lab is part of a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania economic stimulus program, called the Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator, that seeks to develop new infrastructure technology. To be located in CMU's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering facilities, it will be operational by the fall of 2010.

This is not IBM's first foray into developing smart infrastructure technology. IBM's research lab has also developed an urban traffic prediction system that it is testing in a number of different cities, including Singapore. This system can take input from various road sensors and, using a traffic flow model for that city, predict where traffic jams may occur. This will give traffic management departments time to make adjustments of the traffic, through road signs that suggest alternate routes, said IBM researcher Laura Wynter.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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Joab Jackson

IDG News Service
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