Invention prevents ships from colliding with nearby bridges

Academic's technology to monitor marine traffic near bridges and warn of crash risks wins international invention competition

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 May, 2013, 5:45am

Surveillance equipment to actively monitor ships and warn them of hazards could soon be fitted to bridges as part of a system developed by a local researcher to prevent vessels from colliding with the structures.

The intelligent surveillance system, developed by Professor Ni Yiqing of Polytechnic University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won first prize and a gold medal at the International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva.

The system is designed to monitor marine traffic near a bridge, calculate risks to that traffic, and send out messages to any vessels at risk of colliding with it.

Ni said the technology, which was developed at a cost of HK$8 million, could be applied to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, which is currently under construction and due to open in 2016.

The technology incorporates an automatic identification system (AIS), which measures a vessel's speed, direction and course. Along with a vision-based system, it determines the risk of collision. If a ship is fitted with the AIS, warnings would be sent to it. Otherwise, the crew would be alerted using lasers and broadcasted warnings.

If a collision does occur, the system also measures the impact force and evaluates the damage. Hit-and-run incidents can also be avoided as the system can easily identify ships, Ni said.

"Constructing a bridge costs billions of dollars. In many cases, the ships responsible [for damage to bridges] cannot be identified. But even if they were and the owners brought to court, they would pay only a small amount of compensation," said Ni. "That's why it's important to take an active role in preventing collisions."

The project to build the system spanned four years, using the Second Jiaojiang Bridge in Zhejiang province as a research subject. When the bridge was under construction last year, a ship collided with it.

Another accident involving a vessel colliding with a bridge occurred in Guangdong in 2007, when a sand barge crashed into the Jiujiang Bridge, causing nine deaths.

Such accidents in Hong Kong were rare because marine traffic was less dense, Ni said. Hong Kong bridges also often featured artificial islands around the base of their supporting columns, which prevented ships from directly hitting them.

He said the contractor responsible for building the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge had shown interest in the impact measurement and evaluation aspects of the system. But the technology had yet to be fitted to any bridge as it required permission from Zhejiang's transport bureau, which partly funded the project. Installation of the system on each bridge would cost about HK$5 million.

Polytechnic University also won nine other prizes in the competition, including six gold medals and a bronze. Professor Li Yi, of the university's Institute of Textiles and Clothing, developed a technology that simulates how different fabrics stimulate human skin, which could make it easier for designers to accurately select clothing material. He won a gold medal for his work.