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DOT SBIR Program Solicitation 14.1

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Agency: Department of Transportation
Program/Year: SBIR / 2014
Solicitation Number: DTRT57-14-R-SBIR1
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Open Date: February 4, 2014
Close Date: April 4, 2014
14.1-FH1: Development of Prestressed Concrete Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE) Inspection Procedures

Approximately 66% of existing concrete bridges consist of prestressed concrete components (calculated by deck area).  Prestressed concrete is constructed using either pre tensioned or post tensioned steel tendons as tensile reinforcement.  Similar to traditional reinforcement (rebar), these tendons experience degradation due to corrosion and carbonation.  However, unlike typical structural concrete, prestressed concrete is more difficult to inspect using nondestructive evaluation techniques.  This difficulty arises from the fact that tendons cannot be easily distinguished from other reinforcement, are inaccessible, and are often encased in ductwork.  There is a need for new and improved methods, techniques, and technologies to efficiently and effectively inspect these components.


There are multiple existing methods to inspect prestressed concrete components.  These methods include, but are not limited to, the nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques of magnetic methods (magnetic flux leakage (MFL) and the main magnetic flux method (MMFM)), acoustic methods (impact echo, impulse response, etc.), and nuclear methods (gamma ray and x-ray).  Although these methods have proven some successes, there reliability and reproducibility is limited. 


Additionally, there are a variety of structures and structural elements that are comprised of prestressed concrete.  This population includes a variety of configurations.  These configurations range from pretensioned concrete girders and slabs to post tensioned concrete girders and column caps (this list is not all inclusive).  The pretensioned concrete is comprised of steel tendons that are incased in concrete and are typically surrounded by a dense mesh of traditional reinforcement.  Post tensioned configurations typically contain tendons incased in long ducts.  These ducts are either incased in the concrete structure or run from adjacent piers on the internal sections of hollow shaped girders (box girders, pie girders, etc.).  Thus, it is easier to inspect ducts that are not incased in material.  There are currently very few procedures to inspect any of these configurations, especially post tensioned steel tendons incased in concrete.    


The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) NDE and Long Term Bridge Performance (LTBP) programs have identified, through coordination with key stakeholders, that the improved investigation of prestressed concrete is of great importance to the infrastructure of the United States.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:


The objective of this phase is to identify new and improved methods to inspect prestressed concrete nondestructively.  The outcome expected from Phase I is a detailed concept that demonstrates the viability of creating a prototype that satisfies the issues identified above.  The four areas of concentration should be:


  1. Inspection of tendons incased in concrete (typical of pretensioned concrete configurations),
  2. Inspection of grouted tendons in ducts incased in concrete (typical of post tensioned concrete I beam girder and pier cap configurations),
  3. Inspection of grouted tendons in ducts not incased in concrete (typical of post tensioned concrete hollow girder configurations), and
  4. A risk based approach to inspection of prestressed concrete that will determine element level inspection criteria and assign ratings to each element with regard to high probability of failure and subsequent high consequence of failure.  This approach would result in a rating system to be used by bridge inspectors to determine the frequency of required inspection of prestressed concrete elements.


The inspection procedures should focus on identifying cross section loss of individual tendons as well as variation in grout density, if possible.  Phase I deliverables should include a demonstration proving the method is field deployable with a high probability of detection.  This demonstration should include a statistically significant number of trials showing a high percentage of true positives and true negatives with a low percentage of associated false positives and false negatives proving the probability of detection using this method.  Only methods with a high probability of detection will be granted Phase II awards.


Expected Phase II Outcomes:


The Phase 2 outcomes build upon the lessons learned in Phase 1 and will result in a full optimization development of the NDE methods identified in Phase 1.  The final product would be a technology and associated deployable equipment that could be used for inspection.  This technology and equipment would include all appropriate analysis software and decision making framework that could be used by state bridge inspectors to determine the level of section loss of a prestressed tendon. 

14.1-FH2: Personalized Driving Data for Insurance Discounts & Public Benefits

Traditional car insurance rates vary little, if at all, based on mileage and observed driving safety, even though they clearly and directly relate to crashes and claims, and charging based on actual risk exposure would improve safety and the environment, reduce energy use, and lessen crash-caused congestion. Brookings Institution research shows that pay-as-you-drive insurance (PAYDI) would lead to an 8% reduction in driving. Other research points to crash reductions, and likely claims’ reductions, that would be about 1.4 times that amount, typical infrastructure improvement savings of 3 to 5¢ for every mile not driven, and between $50 and $60 billion in net social benefits in the U.S. from reduced driving related externalities, including congestion reduction that has been shown in many instances to be disproportionately greater than the reduction in traffic. ( For example, the Oct. 22, 2008 INRIX report, “The Impact of Fuel Prices on Consumer Behavior and Traffic Congestion,” concluded that the price spikes led to a 26% reduction of peak-hour congestion, resulting from a much smaller reduction—i.e., around 3%--in vehicle-miles traveled.)  Brookings also projects that 63.5% of households would save an average of 28% on their total premiums or about $496 annually for the households that do save, which would be a huge economic stimulant. 


The ability to monitor driving activity for the purpose of improving safety has grown exponentially in recent years.  While some personal lines insurance products have begun to use observed exposure data for premium setting, the tremendous potential for PAYDI applications to lead to substantial public and private benefits, and opportunities for small and mid-size businesses, is nevertheless not being realized.


The suggested approach to improve this situation entails enlisting small and mid-size businesses—including vendors of in-vehicle telematics equipment—to work with personal lines insurance companies and environmental and consumer groups to gather data needed for competitive PAYDI pricing.  An industry is emerging in the U.S. and internationally to combine telematics and car insurance.  Indeed, the “Insurance Telematics USA 2013” conference in Chicago attracted another sellout crowd of 500 participants.  The market today for PAYDI telematics technologies and services has technology and data providers selling services and products directly to insurance companies, and the data is not in turn offered back to consumers in a format that would enable them to solicit competitive PAYDI rates as they are able to solicit for traditional car insurance.  The result is that the dominant insurance company products that include PAYDI elements offer rates that are informed by driver data, but such data remains in a “black box” to consumers who might otherwise want to share them with competitors to secure lower premiums. The public policy benefits of having consumers appreciate how their driving affects their rates (including the number of miles driven in congested conditions) and then being provided an opportunity to change behavior to save on premiums is lost because of how the market is developing.  Therefore, there is a need to create a marketplace that would enable consumers to collect and share their own driving data linked to crash risk—including about driving amounts, conditions (e.g., related to congestion and time of day), and vehicle handling (e.g., prevalence of hard braking)—which would enable insurance carriers to offer competitive and comparable PAYDI rates.

The product described will satisfy FHWA strategic goals related to system performance, congestion reduction, environmental stewardship, and safety.  In addition, it is anticipated that this project may be of interest to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency for Phase II funding.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:

Outcomes expected from the Phase 1 include a detailed concept that demonstrates the viability of one or more consumer telematics products and systems from which at least three insurance companies agree to accept the data to offer competitive premiums. 


Expected Phase II Outcomes:

Phase II efforts would include demonstrating a working prototype (which may or may not include the manufacturing of a new product) of an in-vehicle telematics device, linked to a data integration and warehousing system, that would gather and inform consumers of their driving data and enable consumers to share such data with insurance companies in exchange for competitive pricing and guidance on reducing risk.

14.1-FH3: Suppressing Utility Problems - Protection via Robotic Engineering to the Sub-Surface

Poles supporting overhead utilities in the right-of-way represent a significant safety hazard for drivers and occupants of vehicles.  While other hazards exist on the roadside, vehicles that crash into these utility poles typically suffer serious damage and increase the risk of serious injury or death for the occupants.  Over 1,000 fatalities each year are attributed to crashes involving utility poles.[1]  Relocating overhead utilities in the right-of-way below the ground surface eliminates this safety hazard, improves the aesthetics of the roadway and adjoining properties, and can increase the reliability of the utilities.  However, the cost of relocating existing overhead utilities to the subsurface often prohibits any large scale adoption of the practice.  Innovative technological advances may afford the opportunity to significantly reduce this highway safety hazard.


The most significant issue in underground relocation of utilities beyond the cost is avoiding existing subsurface utilities and other obstructions.  Particularly in corridors with a cluttered subsurface such as in urban environments, the precise location of existing utilities is often unknown.  Even in cases where as-built drawings or other documentation exists, the accuracy and precision may not be good enough to reliably place additional utilities and avoid conflict with existing ones.


Rapidly developing technologies to reliably sense existing underground conditions and the location of existing underground utilities integrated with increasingly affordable robotic technologies may offer a promising and cost-effective solution to the dilemma of relocating overhead utilities.  Nondestructive inspection techniques such as ground penetrating radar and thermography can be combined with more traditional location approaches such as magnetic field detection to more accurately locate existing utilities.  In cases where trenches are open, advanced 3-dimensional data capture with LiDAR or photogrammetric techniques also provides accurate location information that can be combined into a common 3-dimensional digital model of the subsurface.  Significant progress on the detection, location, and mapping of existing underground utilities has been made under the 2ndStrategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) and research conducted by FHWA and the highway construction industry.  These models will provide the necessary information on existing conditions to support accurate placement of overhead utilities into the subsurface.


To minimize cost and disruption, trenchless methods for utility relocation will be required.  Horizontal directional boring technology is relatively mature for applications that do not require very accurate 3-dimensional positioning of the drill head.  Advances in guided directional drilling and microtunneling techniques promise significant improvements in accuracy that may be sufficient and provide the necessary accuracy and control to place utilities in a complex subsurface environment that is characterized by a sufficiently accurate 3-dimensional model.


The desired outcome of the proposed research is a system that can robotically relocate existing overhead utilities to the subsurface in highway and road rights-of-way. The system should be accurate and precise enough to place utilities in complex subsurface environments such as those found in urban corridors.  The robotic installation system will depend on an accurate 3-dimensional model of the subsurface that is derived from state-of-the-art remote sensing technology combined with existing information about buried utilities.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:


Phase I will explore and identify existing technologies that are capable of, or can be adapted to, the robotic installation of underground utilities. Similarly, Phase I will also examine current and emerging subsurface utility sensing and mapping technology to identify the most applicable technique(s) to exploit for use with a future automated subsurface utility relocation system.  Lastly, this phase will determine the feasibility of integrating the identified subsurface sensing/mapping methods with the robotic technology to form a complete, automated subsurface utility relocation system.


Expected Phase II Outcomes:


Building on the information developed in Phase I, Phase II will produce a prototype system that can be demonstrated in a realistic environment by robotically installing utility cables in the subsurface where utilities and other obstructions already exist.

[1]National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 500 -- Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan; Volume 8: A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Utility Poles (2004).

14.1-FH4: STEM Education - Increasing awareness about Intelligent Transportation Systems and Connected Vehicle Technologies for High School Students

This topic exposes students to real world transportation problems to demonstrate how transportation planners, technicians and engineers contribute to solving our nation’s environmental and livability challenges. 


A recent report noted that nearly 60 percent of the nation's students who begin high school interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) change their minds by graduation.  "Tying education to the workforce needs is critical to the future of the nation," said STEMconnector CEO Edie Fraser.[1]  Science and engineering careers are expected to grow more than 20 percent by 2018, twice the rate of the U.S. labor force.


This topic is designed to attract and keep middle and high school students’ interest in STEM education by linking their classwork to well-paying jobs in intelligent transportation systems (ITS).  This topic will provide innovative, hands-on, problem based learning to give students the experience of using their education to meet real-world challenges.  Lesson plans are sought that: (1) engage middle and high school students; (2) relate to solving real-world problems in transportation; (3) develop skills needed by the future transportation workforce; (4) deliver internet-based educational resources using innovative media applications such as interactive games; (5) provide awareness and training into the expanding technologies involved with Connected Vehicle research.


The following provides guidance on potential ITS-related lesson plans and/or activity kits, though proposals are not limited to this list:


  • Proposals should focus on STEM lesson plans and hands-on activities to provide an introduction to ITS and Connected Vehicle technologies while focusing on careers for middle and high school students.
  • Proposals should include innovative, interactive, hands-on activities such as:
  • Citizen science:  Collect and analyze traffic data, then propose strategies to improve safety and increase traffic flow in their community. The solutions could be high-tech, low-tech or no-tech.
  • Design contest to alleviate a transportation problem such as distracted driving.
  • Design parking applications for large special events. 
  • Brainstorm methods for reducing fuel consumption or reducing emissions from vehicles.
  • Proposals should include a plan for introducing high technology transportation fields such as, computer simulation and modeling, transportation design engineering, GIS design, automotive and infrastructure electronics.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:


Outcomes expected from Phase I funding include detailed lesson plan(s) for introducing careers in advanced transportation technology for middle and high school students.  The topic should include a framework for creating a collection of lesson plans that is aligned with academic standards and provide opportunities for students to apply contextualized knowledge in real‐world settings.   The lesson plans should be created according to the guidelines maintained by, a NSF-funded collaborative project sponsored by the American Society for Engineering Education.  The outcomes will include the identification of the potential market size and customers for the STEM education lesson plans.


Expected Phase II Outcomes:


Future Phase II work may include, but not be limited to, design, deployment, and maintenance of a collection of transportation lesson plans for middle and high school STEM education programs.  This collection would include development of goals for high school and postsecondary completion and entry into the workforce for students in the ITS field.  It would include a plan for integrating the lessons plans with outside guests and extra-curricular activities. As part of Phase II, the commercial viability (business plan) for the STEM ITS/Connected Vehicle lesson plans and any related products will be updated and further detailed.

14.1-FH5 : Visually unobtrusive traffic monitoring for National Park Service Parkways

The mission of the National Park Service (NPS) is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system. However, the NPS road network, especially in urban areas is facing congestion issues like those seen around the country.  State Departments of Transportation are applying operational strategies to help manage this increasing concern which can be applied NPS roads. Thus, unobtrusive traffic monitoring devices of low profile, with minimal impact to the natural surroundings are needed to assess vehicular flow on two- to four lane Parkways.  Information on vehicle speeds, travel times (multiple directions), vehicle type, and volume per lane. Surveillance for incident management response is also important.  It is desirable that a strategy for this data to be transmitted to the regional ITS architecture and stored, analyzed and possibly operated and maintained by a state agency.


The device should be developed in a way that allows the FHWA and NPS personnel, involved in this study, to closely monitor it.  Use of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP) maintenance facility and the TFHRC site for preliminary testing of the prototype devices in Phase I and II is required.  Cooperation with nearby jurisdictions such as VDOT and MDSHA and their groups that monitor transportation data is recommended so that transfer of data to their systems can be analyzed.  The GWMP extends 26 miles between Mount Vernon Estates on the south end to I-495 intersection at the north end. Both in pavement and above pavement sensing technologies may be applicable. However, the final packaging must be visually unobtrusive and blend in with the scenic views of the parkway.


This proposal is also in alignment with USDOT goals of ensuring safety and spurring innovation.  Park roads and Parkways in the National Capital Region have 39% of all the crashes that occur in the NPS.  The data obtained with this innovative device will allow the NPS to more comprehensively analyze and address traffic safety and deploy a 4 E’s approach to reduction of crashes.



Device should have:

  • Minimal impact to viewsheds or disturbance of the historical, cultural landscape. The NPS Cultural Landscape Inventory can provide guidance on viewsheds within the study area.
  • Small profile. If an In-Roadway sensor, the portion of the sensor, not embedded in the roadway, shall be capable of being deployed and operate on existing road signs -and light poles. If an Off-Roadway sensor, the same deployment restrictions apply.
  • If an Over-Roadway sensor, the sensor shall be capable of being deployed and operated on median piers of existing bridges and shall be visually unobtrusive.
  • Self- powered capability (long-life batteries preferred over solar panels). There is currently no power or communications sources along the right of way of the Parkway.
  • Data fusion between 2 or more technologies is permitted but is not required.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:


The expected outcome of Phase I is the development of a prototype that can be deployed for testing on the GWMP facility.  Testing may include a groundtruth comparison to an existing sensor station or approved radar system.  Develop a report on key findings and recommendations for modifications.  In the report include, background information on approach to problem statement, project goals and development of device, review of testing and data collection, description of evaluation methods, and conclusions.



Expected Phase II Outcomes:

The expected outcome of Phase II is a device or product that has been deployed and tested at multiple locations on the GW Parkway and proven to generate consistent, accurate results.  The accuracy of counts between locations and the accuracy of the travel time estimates between the locations will be evaluated.  Strategies for transferring data from the sensor to a traffic monitoring center will be developed and demonstrated during Phase II. Develop a report describing the device and associated systems, an implementation plan and cost estimates.


The terms In-Roadway and Over-Roadway are defined in the Traffic Detector Handbook 3rdEdition.

The Traffic Control Systems Handbook describes communications structuring and monitoring

14.1-FH6: Corrosion Resistant Prestressing Strand for Prestressed Concrete Bridges

The number of prestressed concrete bridge structures utilizing high strength 7-wire strand (black strand) has increased steadily since the 1970s. The prestressing strand can be used in both the pre-tensioned and post-tensioned (PT) structures. Two years ago, the University of Texas completed a study where they evaluated various types of prestressing to determine their corrosion-resistance, including black strand as a control. The study concluded that epoxy coted strand performed somewhat better then stainless-clad and stainless steel for both corrosion resistance as well as mechanical properties. Despite these good results on epoxy coated strands, there are number of practical issues for their use in field, and owners are reluctant to adopt this product at present.


For post-tensioned structures, the stressed strands are enclosed in plastic or galvanized ducts and the ducts are filled with cementations grout to provide a barrier system to the enclosed strands. Unfortunately, a number of bridges have still had corrosion issues due to bleed water from the grout being collected at higher end anchorage areas, among other problems including issues with construction, quality control, and environmental concerns. Hence to avoid the inherent deficiency in the cementations grouts, it is desirable to study feasibility of alternate metallic 7-wire strands including epoxy-coated, copper and stainless clad, stainless steel, and other types of alloys to determine their efficacy in preventing corrosion and their cost effectiveness. This study is intended to focus only on metallic alloyed/clad strands, and not fiber-reinforced polymer compositions.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:


The objective of this phase is to identify alternatives to conventional high-strength 7-wire strand (black strand) for prestressed concrete bridges.  The outcome expected from Phase I is the identification of suitable products which may meet required mechanical and physical properties for their use in post-tensioned bridges with regard to overall improved corrosion resistance and performance, and may be economically manufactured.



Expected Phase II Outcomes:


The Phase 2 study will select one or more strand products from Phase I and will perform a detailed evaluation on large scale stressed concrete bridge members for their constructability and long term corrosion performance. Phase 2 will result in the identification of the material/ products that provide high corrosion resistance, perform well in the field, and can be economically manufactured.

14.1-FR1: Lightweight, Portable System for Mid-Chord Offset Measurement of Railroad Rails

A common measurement for quantifying aspects of railroad track geometry is the mid-chord offset (MCO).  MCO measurements enable railroads to maintain their track to safe standards that comply with federal regulations.  In order to obtain MCO measurements, railroad personnel (as well as federal and state inspectors) use string line measurements to measure right and left rail deviations in both the vertical and lateral plane.  Figure 1 shows the typical configuration of an MCO measurement.  One end of the string line is placed at a first point, and the second end is placed a distance xaway from the first point.  The MCO measurement is taken at the center point of the string line, and the MCO measurement is the distance between the string line and the rail at the center point of the string line.  Federal regulations call for the use of 31 foot, 62 foot, and 124 foot string line lengths.  At the longer stringer line lengths of 62 feet and 124 feet using a string line is problematic due to the “droop” effect of the string.


This topic solicits proposals for the development of a compact, portable mid-chord offset rail measurement system that leverages advanced technologies to overcome the difficulties of longer chord length string line measurements The system must be lightweight (preferably less than 10 lbs), portable, and include a portable power source that can provide power for at least 10 hours of intermittent use.  The system may consist of multiple sub-systems or units; for example, the system might consist of a first sub-system placed at a first point, a second sub-system placed at a second point (64 feet or 124 feet away from the first point), and a third sub-system placed at the center point between the first and second subsystems.  The device must be easy to use; preferably system setup and data collection could be performed by a single person.


The scope of research projects for this topic shall include laboratory demonstration of developed technologies.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:


The scope of research projects for this topic shall include laboratory demonstration of developed technologies.


Expected Phase II Outcomes: 


Modify the prototype, based on lessons learned in Phase 1.  The Phase 2 deliverable should be a prototype that is rugged, portable, and is capable of extended field testing.

14.1-FR2: Wheel Load Cycle Tag for Rail

In the railroad industry, the “age” of rail is measured by the number and severity of wheel loads.  Typically the age of the rail is quantified as  millions of gross tons (MGT).  As rails age, they are more susceptible to developing rolling contact fatigue.  Rolling contact fatigue can lead to rail internal defects which, in turn, can lead to rail failure and a train derailment.  Therefore, knowing the “age” of a rail, the number and severity of the loads it has carried, is important.


This topic seeks to develop a device that can measure the service life of rail in term of wheel load cycles and, if possible, peak and average wheel loads.  It is envisioned that this technology take the form of a tag applied to the rail web, although other practical and innovative configurations may be proposed.


In terms of software, the tag should be programmable with basic rail characteristics and date/location of installation and re-installation, and should be readable by a designated handheld device, laptop computer, or other portable device (such as a tablet pc).  The data being read by the receiving handheld device should automatically populate a  database.  The exact content and data to be included in this database may be discussed with the FRA program manager early in the period of performance.  The main purpose of a Phase 1 contract will be to demonstrate feasibility and efficiency of the data transfer rather than focusing on the actual content of the data fields; the exact content of the data fields would be included in a follow-on Phase 2 effort.


With respect to hardware, the device shall be maintenance-free, self-powering (5 year minimum life).  Device production cost should be low in consideration of the high volume production that may be needed.  The device shall be designed to be removeable and replaceable, and shall not interfere with normal train operations or routine track maintenance activities.


The scope of research projects for this topic shall include laboratory demonstration of developed technologies.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:


The scope of research projects for this topic shall include laboratory demonstration of developed technologies.


Expected Phase II Outcomes: 


Modify the prototype, based on lessons learned in Phase 1.  The Phase 2 deliverable should be a prototype that is rugged and is capable of extended field testing.

14.1-FR3: Easy Access to Freight Locomotives

Engineers, Conductors and Brakemen enter and exit from Freight Locomotives several time per trip in the course of the workday. This entails walking on ballast on a slope. Steps allow the worker to climb up to the first step and the remaining steps to the platform., walk towards the cab entry door. Often the step up is conjunction with the locomotive movement at slow speeds. This is “risky” business and many slips and falls can occur. Grab handles facilitate this climb up. The process is not ergonomically friendly. What is desired is an assisted from of  the climb up so as to significantly reduce the effort required. Some “elevator  system would make the effort a lot easier.


Although locomotive designs vary there are the same common elements—large first step, followed by three or more steps. Ant-skid protection helps but could be further optimized. A kind of stair climber is envisioned. Worker population is aging making it harder for the worker to get on/off locomotives.



An clear understanding of the railroad operations environment is essential. Train Occupant Protection  is the principal focus of this topic. Locomotives can be wide body or narrow body. The same basic arrangement would be required. Proposals will be evaluated for innovation, practicality, ease of incorporation into current design locomotives with reasonable design change.


The scope of research projects for this topic shall include design conceptualization, ,development of mock ups , laboratory demonstration of developed  mock ups. Detail design could be part of Phase II.


Expected Phase I Outcomes:


The scope of research projects for this topic shall include laboratory demonstration of developed mock ups 


Expected Phase II Outcomes: 


Production system capable of extended field testing.