QCIF Projects

Structure instrumentation at QUT's Science and Engineering Centre

smiling coupleQUT's new Science and Engineering Centre has wow factor. Completed in February 2013, it includes The Cube, a touch and display system two stories high, offering learning and research opportunities to the public. It brings together more than 300 scholars from science, technology, engineering, mathematics, business, and law in a range of collaborative workspaces and labs. It's a sustainability showpiece, generating enough electricity to power itself and put electricity back into the QUT grid. Solar trees on the rooftop follow the sun to draw the maximum energy every day. It reclaims waste heat from the tri-generation power system and uses it to cool itself. It captures rain from the roof to water its own garden and top up the swimming pool.

But one of the most innovative aspects of the building is something you can't see. Smart sensors internal to the structure are constantly measuring the building's environment and performance. The instrumentation was built into the building during construction, rather than being retrofitted afterwards, an enormous challenge in itself. There are energy sensors, seismic sensors, strain gauges, accelerometers, soil pressure sensors, rod extensometers and more. The instrumentation and the building management system provide a wealth of information that was previously impossible to gather.

This type of data is so rare it is likely to influence all energy efficient buildings in the future, and QUT plans to make it freely available to the research community through QRIScloud operated by QCIF.

Dr Lance Wilson, QCIF eResearch Analyst for QUT and a mechanical engineer himself, recommended that the Science and Engineering Faculty apply for RDSI storage for the data collection. "I knew they were collecting the data, and I knew QUT's own researchers were clamouring for it," he said.

The building is in an area subject to flooding, tides, and high wind loadings. It's next door to a river stage that hosts large concerts. It undergoes the usual daily stresses of an academic teaching facility – hundreds or even thousands of students flowing through the building and filling up lecture theatres. For the first time, engineers and designers will be able to discover the effects these events have on a building.

Jonathan James, Engineering Precinct Manager at QUT, likens the information to an MRI scan. "I think what we will find eventually is that each building has its own signature. People who can read these signatures and make the right calls will make an incredible contribution to future pieces of infrastructure."

The team are currently working to determine the sample rates to push to the cloud. The sensors can capture up to 50 kHz, or 50,000 cycles per second, but this granularity results in a very large data set that may not be necessary. One Hz (one cycle per second) is suitable for some purposes. Jonathan doesn't want to filter out too much data though, because what seems like noise now might prove to be interesting later. "Look at space," he says. "What astronomers used to think of as noise was later proved to be the residual energy from the Big Bang."

One of the most exciting aspects of the project is finding out what researchers will look at when the data becomes available. "It's finding the unknown unknowns," Jonathan says. "Engineers tend to look for particular things related to their own field of research, but when we start giving the data to people who don't have that focus I think we'll find some amazing things. How tides and winds affect the building, for example. This is a field that is new to many people. We're hoping to get to the point where we can make the data available to the general public and start crowdsourcing. I can't wait until it's all cracking along to see what comes of it."