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Sensors measuring traffic, weather, tides to turn NH-Maine span into 'living bridge'

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DURHAM, New Hampshire — The Memorial Bridge connecting New Hampshire and Maine may soon be an information hub for boaters, drivers and engineers.

Under the Living Bridge Project, an effort led by the University of New Hampshire, the state Department of Transportation is installing sensors on the bridge to provide data on traffic, weather, sea level and tidal information.

It will take up to three years to complete the project, in which the sensors will be powered by tidal energy via a turbine beneath the bridge.

People can get an idea of how it works on "Bridge Sundays" this fall, when UNH researchers will be at the bridge with temporary sensors.

The new bridge connecting Portsmouth to Kittery, Maine, opened in August 2013, replacing the original built in 1923.

"We anticipate transforming this landmark into a bridge that can sense its environment, talk to us, and, ultimately, 'feed' itself with renewable tidal energy," says Erin Bell, UNH associate professor of civil engineering and principal investigator of the Living Bridge Project. "This bridge can do so much more than just get you across the river. I can see myself and colleagues learning from this bridge for 20 years, and I can also see people from the Portsmouth/Kittery area getting excited about what the bridge has to offer."

Future projects on the bridge might feature a lighting system that communicates whether the tide is coming in or going out; instrumentation below the bridge that provides valuable data on fish species; or a public user interface that teaches engineering and physics concepts by tracking the load on the lift span as it raises and lowers to let boat traffic pass beneath.

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