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B. Smart Buildings that Admit Their Faults

Narrator: This is Science Today. Structural damage after an earthquake may not be visible, but hidden cracks in support beams could lead to disaster. Steve Glaser, a civil engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, says a building's true condition can only be determined by tearing down sheetrock - a long and expensive process. Instead, Glaser and his colleagues are working on tiny sensor devices called 'Smart Dust Motes', which use radio transceivers and have their own TinyOS operating system.

Glaser: What's special about the motes is they're made by using the technology for making integrated circuits, so they have the potential of being extremely cheap.

Narrator: Glaser says traditional sensors are large, expensive and only provide a 'big picture' view of a structure's damage.

Glaser: When the building's about ready to fall down, they'll see some. However we can put in very localized instrumentation, so we have an entire wall covered with sensors. And that allows us to see very, very different things than we've traditionally have seen.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.