Researchers at Michigan State University are trying to find a way to better monitor road and bridge damage and dangers.

Their idea is to use motorists to power a system of sensors to do the job.

The researchers (Nizar Lajnef and Shantanu Chakrabartty) are devising what they call a smart infrastructure, where the vibrations of cars will generate energy that will power the sensors, and thus, the monitoring system.

Prototype work began in 2008 at MSU.

It has evolved into a national project with the U.S. Department of Transportation that has already generated one patent, three patent applications and three US-DOT grants totaling $1.7 million, including $1.4 million of new funding.

The goal: To create very small sensors that can self-diagnose damage and mechanical failure in pavements and bridges.

Prototypes are currently being tested at the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Turner Fairbanks Highway Research Facility, near Washington, D.C.     The objective is to monitor infrastructure degradation, which is critical for maintenance and safety.