UNM wins international contest in structural health monitoring

October 3, 2023 - by Kim Delker

photo: Fernando Moreu with Chuck Farrar after receiving the SHM in Action award at Palo Alto on Sept. 13. Farrar is a UNM alumni in civil engineering and the director of the Engineering Institute at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Fernando Moreu with Chuck Farrar after receiving the SHM in Action award at Palo Alto on Sept. 13. Farrar is a UNM alumni in civil engineering and the director of the Engineering Institute at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A team from The University of New Mexico won the 14th International Workshop in Structural Health Monitoring (IWSHM 2023) in Action Competition, held in September at Stanford University.

The peak of this gathering is the so-called SHM in Action Competition, where competitors present a life-size demo of their SHM innovation in front of all attendees. This year, the Smart Management of Infrastructure (SMILab) at UNM won the competition.

“Winning the SHM in Action competition for The University of New Mexico is recognition of the hard work of our students and the competitive work they are doing, but it is at the same time a responsibility for 2025, where we should prepare to compete and win again,” said Fernando Moreu, assistant professor in the Gerald May Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and director of SMILab at UNM.

Every two years, the leaders of the structural health monitoring (SHM) industry gather at Stanford to showcase the most recent advances in technology, innovation and safety in a three-day workshop where industry, national laboratories, users and owners discuss the present and future of the SHM industry. This year, more than 500 people attended from all around the world to catch up with what is new and what can be the future of SHM.

“The area of augmented reality — and let’s put it this way, human factors in engineering — is a new direction where engineers are in general out of their comfort zone,” Moreu said.

He said the award is given to the most practical SHM application, so it shows that the work has value for the professionals which is in my opinion one aspect of high-quality research.

“The students working on this topic will soon be the leaders of engineering and computer science integration,” he said. “We should support their studies and ideas as much as we can to enable them to grow and compete internationally, and like this time, thank them for placing UNM ahead of the competition.”

SHM in Action team was made up of Moreu, Ph.D. student Ali Khorasani, and Sundeep Alampalli, a National Science Foundation REU intern at SMILab in 2022, who completed the power trio that ultimately brought the prize to New Mexico.

“AR was a topic we have been working for several years now with the support of several visionaries in the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Transportation Research Board, the Federal Railroad Administration, and specially Los Alamos National Laboratory, with whom I have been lucky to collaborate in this topic since 2016,” Moreu said.

Other agencies supporting this work include UTC Transet from Louisiana State University, the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium and NASA.

Moreu also said that Sandia National Laboratories hosts an AR gathering since 2019, where he presented his work in 2022 and hopes to increase this collaboration with them going forward.

“Another interesting aspect to UNM is the role of high-schoolers and undergraduate researchers, who work closely with the Ph.D. students to advance this research,” he said. “We really like to support the young minds of New Mexico and know the youth are very interested in AR.”

Moreu said this summer, the graduate students at SMILab led a unique human-machine interface in the Center for Advanced Research and Computing as part of the Office of Naval Research DURIP grant awarded to Moreu, and are currently advancing the developing of new AI human-centered algorithms that will enable safer, accurate and capable inspections for the future of inspectors.

“We are currently contemplating a very futuristic reality, but we believe in it, are pushing forward with our vision. Creating new ideas is not easy, in general there is a resistance to try new directions by the stablished community, but we have a goal and it is very exciting,” he said. “Winning IWSHM 2023 shows that having dreams pays off and that the leaders in the SHM community recognize the hard work of the student, so we will continue and grow on this direction with more innovative ideas yet.”