MicroStrain Inc.: Real-Time Monitoring and the Liberty Bell
How do you move the Liberty Bell without turning its famous crack into an infamous one? That was the dilemma that National Park Service curators faced in 2003 when they moved the delicate American icon from its longtime home at the Bicentennial Pavilion in Philadelphia to a new display space at the Liberty Bell Center. Casting impurities make the Liberty Bell prone to cracking, but thanks to new microsensor technology developed by MicroStrain Inc., with SBIR awards from the NSF, the bell reached its destination without incident.
The Liberty Bell was moved safely, thanks in part to a technology developed by MicoStrain that uses a network of wireless sensors to autonomously detect and report motion as small as one-hundredth the width of a human hair. Such networks of wireless sensors can be used to monitor in real time the structural health of bridges, roads, trains, dams, buildings, ground vehicles, aircraft, and ships, alerting those responsible to potential failures before they become disasters. Both private manufacturers and government customers—from local municipalities to the Navy—are drawing on this technology to reduce the costs of equipment maintenance and replacement while improving both the safety and the reliability of the nation’s infrastructure.
Steve Arms started MicroStrain after completing his graduate degree in engineering. He found the NSF’s SBIR program to be particularly helpful in the early stages when he was building the company’s technological and commercial capacity. The NSF’s relatively more “open topics allowed the company to pursue the technical development that best fit its know-how,” he explained, adding that as a result, the company is better able to respond to the needs of its commercial and government customers.