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Better Safe than Sorry: How New Technology is Making Our Buildings and Structures Safer than Ever Before

Dixie Somers

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Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons via Hernan Pinera

Our world is more prone to both man-made and natural disasters than any time in history, but technology is moving forward even faster. New materials and methods of testing allow us to build buildings which are modern, safe, and environmentally friendly. Here are four ways that new technology is making our buildings and structures safer and better protected than ever before.

Metamaterials

Earthquakes are destructive because of the wavelengths their shock waves emit. Metamaterials are special because they are capable of taking advantage of properties not seen in nature, and can "cloak" buildings by modifying the soil to divert the energy from earthquakes. Most importantly, the technology could be used to prevent the destruction of important infrastructure such as the national power grid, water transportation systems, and skyscrapers.

Non-destructive Testing

This is a technique often employed to examine the composition and durability of a variety of materials with which buildings are constructed. Companies like 20/20 NDT Inc. who specialize in non-destructive testing in Fort St. John, will use non-invasive techniques to inspect structures for even the smallest problems in order to prevent against disasters and make adjustments for safety. New methods of non-destructive testing (NDT) are becoming available because of technological advancements in the sciences of ultrasonic, radiography, and low coherence interferometry. There has also been a wave of tiny new hand-held devices which have contributed to the convenience of testing. NDT is making the process of constructing safer buildings much cheaper as a result.

3D Printing

Homes have been constructed using concrete for a long time, and age is a major factor in the long-term viability of the substance. 3D printing uses concrete as well, but is designed to use specialized additives which some tests have shown to be ten times as durable while lasting twice as long as traditional materials. As long as the building undergoes the same stringent building regulations as those that aren't 3D printed, experts maintain the building is safer.

Smart Materials

Like metamaterials, smart materials exhibit properties which can help prevent damage due to natural disasters or external threats such as terrorism. New shape memory alloys can endure physical stress without breaking, and bounce back to their original form when the stress is reduced. This technology would be especially helpful for updating bridges and creating a more modern alternative to pavement.

In the future, these same technologies will allow us to build taller, stronger buildings which are nearly impossible to topple through conventional means. The real question is when this will come to fruition—since metamaterials, 3D printing, and smart materials are still years away from providing the speed and cost-effectiveness we require to push the technologies mainstream.


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