Carnegie Mellon University
October 08, 2014

Good Vibrations: Noh Studies Structure-As-Sensor at CMU-SV

Good Vibrations: Noh Studies Structure-As-Sensor at CMU-SV

If walls could talk, what would they say? According to Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Hae Young Noh, they might tell you how many people have walked by them, what those people are wearing, and even how they're feeling.

In May, Noh set out to spend her summer at Carnegie Mellon University's Silicon Valley campus, as a part of a CMU short-term faculty exchange program. This program is designed to promote collaboration between the Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley campuses and foster the spirit of innovation that all of Carnegie Mellon's campuses have become known for.

This was not her first experience with the Silicon Valley campus. Noh, in collaboration with Associate Research Professor Pei Zhang and Lin Zhang of Tsinghua University, has been co-advising several students—both at her home campus in Pittsburgh and in Silicon Valley—for some time. These students include Shijia Pan (ECE PhD), Irem Velibeyoglu (CEE PhD), Mike Lam (CEE MS), Mostafa Mirshekari (CEE MS), Yuqiu Qian (USTC), Ningning Wang (ECE MS), and Grace Kihumba (MSIT MS). These months at CMU-SV allowed Noh the chance to work with the Silicon Valley students face to face.

Noh's research looks into what she calls the "structure as sensor" concept. In traditional structural analysis, you can use specific sensors to measure what's going on in a structure: if you want to measure temperature, you use a thermometer; if you want to measure pressure, use a barometer. Noh's research, however, aims to collect data on things that there is no sensor for. She and her team have to resort to using other types of measurement to indirectly infer the information she's looking for.

"We put vibration sensors in the structure, and by listening to the vibration your footstep is making, we can see what type of shoe you're wearing, how tall you are, and how heavy you are. If you're carrying something, it can cause an unbalance in your step strength, so you can recognize that, too."

The applications for this research span from tracking building inhabitants for security purposes, to tracking consumer traffic patterns around a retail store, to helping banks make the most of their underutilized spaces.

Noh describes a medical application: "When you give certain medications, the side effects can make people weak or sleepy. This can be dangerous. When that happens, their gait patterns change, which we can monitor through vibration."

Noh has been working on this research at her home campus in Pittsburgh, but spending her summer at the CMU-SV campus, she says, provided her with numerous opportunities that would only have been available to her there.

"It was easier to connect," she said. "Silicon Valley has a lot of high-tech companies. They were very interested in new technology, so they were very keen to talk to the faculty about what is the most recent research."

This collaborative relationship between Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley campuses provided Noh the chance to form relationships with companies in California, such as Google and Qualcom, and faculty from other universities like Stanford and Berkley. She also worked with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on levee monitoring, and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on bridge delamination diagnosis.

Though Noh is now back in Pittsburgh, her relationship with CMU-SV doesn't end here. As a result of this visit, Noh and Zhang now hold a bi-coastal group meeting and lunch for the students they advise. In addition, she worked with CMU-SV Professor Bob Iannucci, ECE Assistant Professor Osman Yagan and Associate Research Professors Ole Mengshoel and Pei Zhang on several proposals for future projects while in California that will continue to foster this collaboration between the Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley campuses in the years to come.

Share On Facebook

Pictured above: Noh with Pei Zhang

Collaboration note: This research was conducted by a collaborative team of faculty from the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Carnegie Mellon University in Silicon Valley.

This article was republished with permission from the College of Engineering