Sat, May 14, 2016 - Page 3 News List

NARL develops new app to assess earthquake cracks

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

To prevent earthquake damage, the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) has developed the world’s first remote crack measurement application that allows smartphone users to measure cracks on buildings to assess a building’s structural integrity against tremors.

There are more than 1,000 earthquakes in Taiwan every year, and the nation is likely to be hit by a magnitude 9 earthquake by 2020 according to some estimates, making it pressing to conduct nationwide building assessments, because about 750,000 buildings in the nation are more than 30 years old and potentially vulnerable to major earthquakes, NARL researcher Chang Wen-yi (張文鎰) said earlier this week.

Japan requires all buildings more than 10 years old to undergo regular inspections, and the Taiwanese government, following the Feb. 6 earthquake that killed 117 people, announced a six-year, NT$50 billion (US$1.55 billion) project to improve the nation’s earthquake resistance.

Crack analysis is a major means to determine the intensity of structural damage, Chang said.

Most crack measuring devices cannot detect cracks from a long distance, while existing non-contact instruments are too difficult to operate and too expensive — priced at between NT$550,000 and NT$1 million.

The NARL therefore developed a device that uses a laser and image analysis software that can be operated with smartphones and digital cameras.

The device projects four laser dots onto a cracked surface and then takes a photograph of it, after which the software calculates the width of cracks based on the surface area of a rectangle connected by the laser dots, Chang said.

A complete kit with the laser device costs about NT$50,000, but the system can be operated without the laser device.

“Users can simply download the app, which is free of charge, and take a photograph of a cracked surface onto which an A4 piece of paper is attached, and the application can measure cracks using the paper as a reference point,” he said. “Photographs can be uploaded to the NARL’s servers for analysis.”

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