Carnegie Mellon University Puts Tech Rig into Infrastructure

By Fontaine, Tom | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 11, 2010 | Go to article overview

Carnegie Mellon University Puts Tech Rig into Infrastructure


Fontaine, Tom, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Patrick Lazik likes to play practical jokes on his parents from time to time.

From Oakland, the Carnegie Mellon University graduate student can click a button on a computer screen and turn on the hot tub in his parents' home in Munich. Or turn off lights in their living room. Or draw their blinds.

"They freak out when I do that," said Lazik, 23, who studies electrical and computer engineering. A video link allows him to see their reaction.

The technology that makes Lazik's gags possible, integrated with a computer program allowing him to monitor energy use in his parents' home in real time, is no joke. It's part of the wide- ranging research that will drive CMU's Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator, opening early next year.

The program, being developed with $2.2 million in state and private money, will look for technological answers to America's infrastructure problems.

"When you talk about infrastructure, you're talking about everything," said Ed Schlesinger, incubator co-director and head of CMU's electrical and computer engineering department. It includes traditional systems -- such as roads, bridges, railroad tracks, pipes, power grids and buildings -- and what he called "cyber- infrastructure," or the computers, networks and sensors increasingly used to run, inspect and maintain them.

"Many parts of the (traditional) U.S. infrastructure are deteriorating, but we don't have the trillions of dollars" needed to build, rebuild or run them, said James Garrett, an incubator co- director and head of CMU's civil and electrical engineering department. More efficient, cost-effective approaches provided by next-generation technology are needed, he said.

Officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking on campus Wednesday. Researchers showed off some works in progress: from devices aimed at better pinpointing leaks and cracks in pipelines and weak spots in bridges to ones that would reduce energy use in homes and businesses. …

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