Jessica Vermeer
26 May 2020

Photonic sensors from Somni, a startup residing in The Hague, will help ensure the new bridge in Genoa, Italy, remains safe. Two years ago, on 14 August 2018, the old Morandi bridge collapsed, resulting in 43 casualties and 15 injured. The replacement will be opened by the end of July.

The disaster that struck the Genoa bridge back in 2018 was caused by overdue maintenance. Restoration of neglected infrastructure requires huge investments. Photonic sensors are a relatively cheap addition and could help prevent disasters, as well as major maintenance costs.

The structural integrity of the new bridge will be monitored continuously by over a hundred sensors. They will gauge vibrations at several points, as well as measure the deformation of the road surface and monitor the skewed position of the eighteen bridge pillars. A large part of the sensors will be supplied by Somni.

Somni sensors Genua bridge
The sensors Somni supplied for the new Genoa bridge. Credit: Somni

“Monitoring a kilometer-long bridge is technically a difficult task,” explains Somni CTO Remco Nieuwland. “It would require many kilometers of copper wire to connect regular sensors. Wireless sensors need a lot of maintenance and batteries. That’s why they decided to use photonics.”

Through fiber-optic cables, light is fed to the photonic sensors, which contain tiny reflectors. The reflected light carries information from the sensor. According to Nieuwland, an additional advantage is that several sensors can be connected to the same fiber-optic cable, making installation easier and cheaper.