This is an English version of the interview in Spanish published in La Vanguardia on 1st June 2023. The original article can be read here.
Worldsensing was founded in 2008 at the Barcelona Science Park of the University of Barcelona. Today, with the aid of the Internet of Things (IoT) and a highly diverse and innovative team, it is a leader in monitoring large infrastructures across more than 70 countries.
How did Worldsensing originate?
I am a geophysicist, and with Jordi, Xavi, and Mischa, three university colleagues, we recognised how new low-power communication technologies could be very useful for monitoring infrastructures – bridges, tunnels, dams, mines, railways, etc. – and thus obtain real-time information about their condition and anticipate potential collapse. Fortunately, these large infrastructures are generally stable and if there are any changes, they occur gradually. By monitoring buildings and bridges, we can closely observe how damage progresses and take action before it collapses, preventing and avoiding a disaster.
Technology used by Worldsensing to monitor infrastructure condition
And you create the technology that enables this monitoring.
Indeed, through a series of low-power radio communication technologies, we created – with the help of funding from BBVA, one of the few entities that supported us from the start- a device the size of a mobile phone powered by batteries that allows capturing the data from the sensors needed to diagnose the condition of an infrastructure. Until now, in the markets where we are present – mining, civil construction, railways, gas pipelines, wind turbines, etc. – inspections to determine the condition of the infrastructure were done manually, visually.
Which infrastructures are you monitoring?
Over 3,000 in more than 70 countries. Among them, the metro of Oslo, Lima, Los Angeles, Kuala Lumpur, or Paris, and iconic infrastructures such as Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and the Panama Canal
“We monitor over 3,000 infrastructures in more than 70 countries, such as metro of Paris, Oslo or Los Angeles, Palau Sant Jordi or the Panama Canal”
What do you do at Palau Sant Jordi, for instance?
Using sensors, we measure real-time the loads supported by the structure to control that there is no overload, and no damage occurs. This allows us to anticipate all kinds of structural damage and minimise all sorts of disasters (natural or otherwise), and prevent accidents.
Worldsensing team members
Climate change is causing more natural disasters.
It is an obvious reality. Every day there are new situations like the rising sea level, droughts, landslides… Now, for example, there is no rain, and when it rains, it’s sudden, causing landslides. Or rock falls: with heat, the ground heats up, expands, and when the rock cools down, it contracts, fractures, and falls onto railway tracks, which can cause an accident. Moreover, current infrastructures were not originally designed for extreme weather conditions. If a bridge is prepared to withstand winds of 80 km/h, which is typically the maximum in a given location, and now we have a storm like Gloria, with winds reaching 300 km/h, the situation changes, we have a problem. What we do is provide information and anticipate the accelerated deterioration of the infrastructure, which helps mitigate possible disasters with a technology that has a very low cost.
Was it easy for you to make your way?
No, it wasn’t easy, but it has been and is very rewarding. The industries we work for adopt innovation very slowly, and we had to raise awareness and demonstrate how digitization improves infrastructure safety.
How have you managed to be present in over 70 countries?
Because we were born with an international vision. In 2008, Spain was in the midst of a crisis, and we didn’t have any opportunities here. That’s why we already considered that our market was the world, and from the beginning, we went abroad. Today, we have our headquarters in Barcelona, and teams in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, France, the United Kingdom, Poland, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Where are you heading?
We are expanding into new sectors, such as the control of gas and oil pipelines that traverse vast areas, or offshore wind turbine towers. There are countless applications for the technology, always with the same motto: ensuring that the infrastructure we monitor remains operational and in the best condition, thus preventing its deterioration or eventual collapse.