A team of students and faculty members based at Queen’s Ingenuity Labs Research Institute recently found themselves high above the Cataraqui River looking down at all the construction equipment working on the City of Kingston’s new Waaban Crossing bridge.

But they were not on top of the new structure. They were on ladders underneath it, installing sensors on the joints and bearings so the city will be able to monitor how the bridge is working in real time.

The new bridge, which officially opened to traffic on Dec. 13, is the largest infrastructure project the City of Kingston has ever undertaken. It is 1.2 km long and took more than four years of construction. All three levels of government each contributed $60 million to the project.

During the construction phase, the city approached Queen’s to partner in finding tools that could help track the performance of the new structure. After more than a year of testing and preparation, the Ingenuity Labs team is now using the latest technology to help the city monitor the safety and integrity of the bridge in an efficient and affordable way.

“One of our goals at Ingenuity Labs is to bring together researchers with different areas of expertise to work on projects that can contribute to the betterment of society. This project gives us a chance to have that impact at the local level,” says Josh Woods, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and the Mitchell Professor in Intelligent Infrastructure Monitoring at Ingenuity Labs. “Without sensor technology, municipalities rely on annual or biannual visual inspections of bridges to determine if there are any issues with the structure. With the sensors that we’ve installed on the bridge, the City of Kingston will have constant access to real-time quantitative data that can help them make more informed decisions about the maintenance of the structure.”

The sensors collect data that examine how the bridge’s expansion joints and bearings perform as the concrete expands and contracts with changes in seasons and temperatures. To ensure the sensors worked properly and could withstand the conditions they’d face under the bridge, the team put them through comprehensive tests in a variety of conditions, including lying them under the sun on top of Ellis Hall and letting them sit in a freezer for extended periods of time.


Isabel Heykoop underneath the Waaban Crossing with a newly-installed sensor (at left).


The Ingenuity Labs team will also be using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) — commonly referred to as “drones” — to supplement the data from the sensors with detailed visual inspections. With images captured by the UAVs, the city will be able to inspect aspects of the bridge that would be difficult to see otherwise.

“The City of Kingston is excited to work with faculty and students from Queen’s to find innovative and ‘smart’ methods to monitor the structural health of the new Waaban Crossing," says Mark Van Buren, Deputy Commissioner, Major Projects Office, City of Kingston. "It’s a great benefit for the city to be able to partner with Queen’s and draw on the expertise of the world-class researchers in our own backyard while also giving their students valuable opportunities to develop their skills. We look forward to continue working with the great team in Ingenuity Labs as we maintain this major new piece of infrastructure and keep it safe for our community.”

A Queen’s post-doctoral fellow and two Queen’s students are playing instrumental roles in the project:

  • Isabel Heykoop, a MASc'23 candidate (Civil Engineering);
  • Heshan Fernando, PhD'21, a post-doctoral fellow at Ingenuity Labs; and
  • Dylan Neves, a fourth-year Civil Engineering undergraduate.

Each one provided a different perspective and set of skills that contributed to the successful completion of the project. Heykoop also served as the manager of the project, taking the lead on keeping track of deadlines, submitting plans, and coordinating with the city.


Dylan Neves, Heshan Fernando, and Isabel Heykoop underneath the new Waaban Crossing earlier this year to install sensors.


“I went to Queen’s for my undergraduate degree as well, so Kingston has been part of my growth as a student and a person,” says Heykoop. “It means a lot to me to make a contribution to the city that will help improve the lives of people here for years to come.”

Going forward, the team in Ingenuity Labs is working to provide the city with tools that will help them efficiently analyze the data they receive from the sensors on the bridge. Ingenuity Labs will also be using UAVs to help the city inspect infrastructure beyond the bridge to make decisions about maintenance.

“The City of Kingston gives our students great opportunities to do field work close to campus and use the city as a kind of living lab for them to test ideas and build their skill sets,” says Dr. Woods. “Ingenuity Labs looks forward to continue working with them in the future.”


credit: Mike Hill


This article originally appeared in the Queen’s Gazette.