Self-Healing Houses

E-mail Melanie Martella

The EU has just funded a 14 million euro project to create an intelligent villa in Greece, capable of mending cracks in its own walls and monitoring vibration using embedded sensors.

Greece's Seismic Legacy
Because Greece sits on the collision zone between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, it gets lots of earthquakes, including some very serious ones. As a result, it's a perfect location to build and test an earthquake-resistant villa in Amphilochia in western Greece by 2010.

While earthquake-resistant buildings already exist, the Intelligent Safe and Secure Buildings (ISSB) project plans to use a novel approach to beef up the buildings—self-healing nanopolymers in the walls combined with wireless sensors and RFID tags. Should a wall crack, the particles in the wall will turn into a liquid, flow into the crack, and then harden. The NanoManufacturing Institute (NMI) at Leeds University in the U.K. will be in charge of producing the nanoparticles and Instrumentel, a Leeds University spinout company will provide the sensor technology. By seeding lots of tagged sensors throughout the building, researchers can collect extensive data on how the building behaves (they'll monitor vibration, stress, temperature, humidity, and gas) and, potentially, the house's wireless sensor network could alert the occupants if they need to evacuate the building.

Professor Terry Wilikins, head of NMI, was quoted in an article on the project on the Nanowerk Web site: "If there are any problems, the intelligent sensor network will be able to alert residents immediately so they have time to escape.
"If whole groups of houses are so constructed, we could use a larger network of sensors to get even more information.
"If the house falls down, we have got handheld devices that can be used over the rubble to pick out where the embedded sensors are hidden to get some information about how the villa collapsed.
"Also, we can get information about anyone who may be around, so it potentially becomes a tool for rescue."

Now this is the kind of smart building I would really, really like to see.

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