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Monitor signals the end for termites

The building and electrical distribution industries could save millions of dollars thanks to the development of a smart timber monitor that is used to accurately measure decay and insect infestations such as termites. Source: The Australian

University of Melbourne researchers have created a wireless device that can be attached to timber beams, joists or power poles and works at predetermined intervals to monitor structural integrity, moisture content and the movement of termites and other wood-boring insects remotely and over vast distances.

The Australian Research Council funded the project with support from the power pole industry and Archicentre, a provider of design, advice and inspection services.

The project has recently completed successful field trials at a test site near Gove, in the Northern Territory’s Arnhem Land, involving hundreds of solar-powered sensors reporting decay and insect damage on 40 power poles and 87 miniature model houses.

University of Melbourne senior research fellow Berhan Ahmed, along with radar technology expert Associate Professor Peter Farrell and senior engineering lecturer Graham Brodie, created the device, which is in the process of being patented.

“The condition of the wood is measured using microwave energy moving through the wood,” said Dr Ahmed, who is based at the University’s Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science. “If that wood is decaying, it will have an increase in moisture.”

Dr Ahmed, who was also a 2009 Victorian of the Year, said the device used a sensor to detect movement within the wood.

The team plans to secure partners to commercialise the device in the next two years as it could provide significant savings in building inspections, transport and labour costs and the amount of timber consumed by the construction and electrical industries.

About half of Australia’s seven million power poles are timber. The team’s device could also determine precisely when power poles reach the end of their service life.

Dr Ahmed said the device could allow a warning to be sent directly to the mobile phone of a home owner, a building inspector or an electrical company, identifying exactly where a problem was emerging.