Comcast Pennovation Challenge

I have had the pleasure to work with a fantastic team (Kevin Martin, Jono Sanders, Grace Moore, and Chelsea Meyers) of integrated product design students at Penn on what would evolve into the winning proposal for Comcast’s Pennovation Challenge. Our premise: to address, target, and provide early-stage mitigation and monitoring tools for the aging and rapidly deteriorating bridge infrastructure in the greater Philadelphia region.

The classification “Bridge” here refers to generally any spanning piece of infrastructure including overpasses, viaducts, pedestrian walkways, rail bridges, etc. When address collectively, within the Philadelphia Metro region there are well over 1,000 examples. Our focus was on the majority share of the infrastructure stock and not on high-profile cases such as the Ben Franklin Bridge or the Walt Whitman Bridge, which receive ample funding and experience regular periodic maintenance. The Ben Franklin bridge, for instance, currently has a top-dollar monitoring system installed (if you’ve ever walked across the bridge, on the south side, at the midpoint you’d see a collection of equipment and cable housing that collect and process data, such as strain fluctuations relative to commuter rail traffic.

With this in mind, the idea was to build on LoRa technology and Comcast’s MachineQ infrastructure to provide a low fidelity, high spatial resolution, real-time vulnerability assessment tool for bridge owner’s (DOT, the city, etc.). Measurement at a variety of scales is critical: at the micro scale, tracking local changes, across a range of variables, at multiple points on a bridge can be used to monitor a variety of pathologies related to concrete and steel (reinforcing) health; at the intermediary scale, the ability for each of these low-powered sensors to communicate with one another on the same bridge allows for the low-resolution data to be interpolated to provide a high spatial resolution, comprehensive ‘picture’ of the bridge in real-time; and lastly, at the macro scale, when data from multiple bridges within a network to share data allows for the introduction of other macro-scale real-time data from other sources to be overlaid (traffic, weather, etc.) to help not only identify but begin to explain deterioration patterns.

For more information, here are some articles that have been published about the team, project, and the competition in general:
Philly Mag
Philadelphia Business Journal
Philly Mag (on the Comcast SmartCity Hackathon citing our project)

Leave a Comment