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CMU lab refines infrastructure

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By Mike Cronin
Thursday, July 29, 2010

Knowing where energy is being wasted inside a building, where a pipe leak is developing or where a crack is forming underneath a bridge would help government officials save taxpayer money, say Carnegie Mellon University researchers and IBM executives.

"The guy on the street is paying for those kinds of things with his taxes and utility bills," said Matthew Sanfilippo, executive director of CMU's new Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator. "Policymakers are trying to spend that money more wisely."

CMU and IBM officials announced Wednesday the founding of the IBM Smarter Infrastructure Lab. It is one component of the incubator, along with the Bombardier Collaborative Center announced last month.

Incubator research will focus on developing more efficient civil infrastructure and transit operations.

IBM Corp. and Bombardier Inc. are the primary founding partners of the incubator, said James H. Garrett Jr., the CMU Thomas Lord professor and chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"Research activities have already begun," he said.

Garrett cited a collaboration between CMU and a local water authority. He and his colleagues signed nondisclosure agreements, so he could not name the authority. But the entity is sharing data on the condition of its infrastructure, so CMU researchers may analyze it and show what they find.

"At CMU, we'll be finding more efficient ways to manage and more efficient ways of doing business," said Wayne Balta, an IBM vice president in Somers, N.Y.

That means collecting data from sensors placed in locations that can monitor such things as how much chlorine exists at a water-supply intake valve, he said.

"If we can take the data we get and apply software analysis to it, we can then at blazing speeds detect patterns and see trends we wouldn't be able to otherwise process," Balta said.

Construction of the $2.2 million incubator offices began last month, Sanfilippo said. The state Department of Community and Economic Development awarded a grant of about $1 million for the project. Building should be completed by the end of the year.

Balta declined to specify how much IBM is contributing, but he said the company is supporting the effort with computer hardware, software and personnel.

Bombardier Transportation in West Mifflin originally considered building a testing facility on a 178-acre site in Hazelwood, but the company decided to let CMU take the lead on the project, said Bombardier spokeswoman Maryanne Roberts last month.

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