Why The New Bridge in Genoa is Among The World’s Most Advanced

Image Credit: Christian Michelides via Wikimedia Commons

The San Giorgio bridge in Genoa, Italy, may not look like anything extraordinary at first sight, and it’s really nothing special when it comes to design and structural ingenuity, yet it’s considered to stand at the cutting edge of technology in the field. The way through which San Giorgio is pushing the envelope lies in its functions rather than its structural elegance.

First, it uses solar panels positioned along its 1,067 meters (3,501 ft) of length, providing the power required to light up the bridge, saving on electricity and achieving independence from power cuts and other grid problems.

Secondly, it features four automated robots that use a set of wheels to move autonomously along the viaduct and snap photographs of its concrete surface. This is to help the engineers identify any cracks from their early formation and intervene with corrective work where required.

The robots also clean the bridge, including the solar panels and the wind-proofing barriers on its sides, so this process is automated too. Once this is done, the robots retreat to their charging stations powered by energy harvested by the solar panels. This keeps the running cost of cleaning and maintaining the bridge at a minimum compared to typical solutions used everywhere else.

The San Giorgio bridge has gone so far in terms of innovation because it replaces the Ponte Morandi bridge, which collapsed during a rainstorm in August 2018, killing 43 people in the incident and the pride of Italian engineering. The old bridge gave in to excessive concrete creep problems due to incorrect assessments and poor maintenance and targeted reinforcement work.

This failure is why the inspection role was now allotted to automated systems that empower the civil engineers to conduct sweeping surveys and catch any signs of trouble early. The new bridge is also made of concrete, so the same material-related risks apply, although the design approach is different. Ponte Morandi was a towered cable bridge, while San Giorgio is a beam bridge with heavy steel reinforcement.

Bianca Van der Watt

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