The Maxima tragedy in Latvia, the Genoa bridge collapse in Italy – both of these instances of structural collapse could have been possibly avoided by detecting structural deformations. Latvian scientists have developed a prototype to monitor such deformations and prevent future catastrophes.
The team of scientists, made up of Girts Smelters, Kristians Karlsons, Artis Rozentals, Ricards Cacurs and Rolands Savelis, is hoping to find collaborators for the first tests using their prototype.
“The project was developed in the Institute Electronics and Computer Science of Latvia. I’m a researcher, one of the specialists who works there,” explains Ricards Cacurs. “The base of our technology came from the National Research Program. The idea was to create a multifunctional fabric, whose form could be reshaped in real-time, in 3-D space. The original goal of the system was to reconstruct the human spine and report whether or not it was properly aligned, providing data to medical specialists working with scoliosis. When we wrote up our commercial project to submit to the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA), we also explored different uses for the system. We concluded that the niche for motion tracking is quite full, and identified a new potential use – the monitoring of building and structure deformation. We decided to continue in this completely new direction. The technology is currently being revised for use on various constructions – bridges, houses and even shafts.”
Considering that the research project needed a business leader, Kristians Karlsons joined the team. “Not long after returning to Latvia, I was approached by LIAA technology scout Girts Smelters. I joined the team about a year ago. I previously worked in the world’s largest accelerator, the Plug and Play Tech Centre, in venture capital investment, in California. Afterwards I lived in Amsterdam for half a year, where I was one of the founding members in a new accelerator, where I worked as Investment Director,” Kristians describes his path to joining the team.
The money’s there – the work just has to continue.
The team is currently made up of five members – Ricards and Kristians, as well as three researchers. The product concept is ready for the prototype stage; it’s a long, flexible band, in which there are various sensors. The band can be attached to any specific structure where one wants to monitor short term or long term deformations. The sensors within the band collect data throughout the monitoring period. The data, in turn, is sent to a centralized platform where it’s possible to monitor the structure’s condition and be alerted to even the smallest changes.
“We have financing to make our concept into a commercialized solution. However, it’s currently very expensive to create our prototypes, especially considering that they are handmade. Our goal is to achieve large-scale production,” explains Ricards. The team currently isn’t thinking about the next round of investments, because financing from LIAA is enough to achieve the project’s goals.
A similar solution is already on the market – Measurand – however, it’s not yet used widely. The Latvian team believes it can compete, because their product is less expensive and more elastic than the current product on the market, which would make integrating it into structures much simpler. “Furthermore, we have the idea to customize each band as needed, rather than producing just one standard length. Only one competitor in the global market – that’s not so bad,” says Ricards. “The advantages of our product will help us compete in niche markets, for example monitoring church rooves and other unusual structures. In terms of innovation, the construction industry has been lagging,” Kristians adds.
Especially interesting: structures in critical condition
So far, the results have been positive. The team went to the Riga Technical University’s Material Laboratory, where they used a camera to monitor deformations, a method currently used to detect structural changes in buildings and bridges. Using their band and comparing results, they are just as accurate and effective. The team is currently looking for partners with which to continue to test their product. “The next phase of the project was approved at the beginning of the summer, and then everyone went on vacation. It’s not easy finding pilot projects during the summer! That’s why we’re glad that fall has finally arrived and people are back from vacations. Now we can work more actively. The reaction in Latvia to our project is always positive – “Yes, this is needed! Keep working!”, until they are asked to contribute financially. That’s why currently we’re not asking for anyone to pay for the product: we’re inviting businesses that are simply ready to test it. This isn’t at all dangerous and will have no impact on their work. All they might learn is that they’ve been building their buildings crookedly,” jokes Kristians. He also emphasizes that it would be especially interesting to test the prototypes on buildings in critical condition.
Once a business agrees to let the team test their product, the researchers themselves will do the rest of the work, driving to the site and attaching their sensor. In the future, the hope is to have construction workers themselves attach the band – the system will be simple enough for any worker to use.
Both scientists and marketers are needed for success
And how does LIAA Technology Scout, Girts, rate the team’s progress? “My objective rating of the team hasn’t been released yet, though I must say I very much like the professional approach from the researchers and institute, already from day one. Kristians, on the other hand, provides a valuable service with his international experience and business vision, something not often found in a research environment. Looking from the outside, it looks like a strong symbiosis. I hope that this continues and the business and research sides of operations keep being equally important. I hope that this serves as a model to future research institutes.”
In turn, Kristians hopes to encourage young people to study science: “Everyone who is deciding what to study after high school should consider the sciences. When it was my time to choose, business and economy were popular. But the reality is that there’s much more worth and purpose in sciences. These experts are missing both in Latvia and in the world. Opportunities for development and innovation are endless.”