Section: Overall Objectives

Overall Objectives

monitoring, system identification, change detection, diagnostics, on-line identification and detection algorithms, subspace-based algorithms, statistical hypotheses testing, sensors fusion, optimal sensors placement, vibration-based structural analysis and damage detection and localization, aeronautics, civil engineering


The objective of this team is the development of Structural Health Monitoring techniques by in particular intrinsic coupling of statistics and thermo-aeroelastic coupling modeling for the development of robust and autonomous structural health monitoring solutions of mechanical structures. The emphasis of the team is the handling of very large systems such as the recent wind energy converters currently being installed in Europe, building on the expertise acquired by the proposed team on bridges as an example of civil engineering structure, and for aircrafts and helicopters in the context of aero elastic instability monitoring. The necessity of system identification and damage detection systems robust to environmental variations and being designed to handle a very large model dimension motivates us. As examples, the explosion in the installed number of sensors and the robustness to temperature variation will be the main focus of the team. This implies new statistical and numerical technologies as well as improvements on the modeling of the underlying physical models. Many techniques and methods originate from the mechanical community and thus exhibit a very deep understanding of the underlying physics and mechanical behavior of the structure. On the other side, system identification techniques developed within the control community are more related to data modeling and take into account the underlying random nature of measurement noise. Bringing these two communities together is the objective of this joint team between Inria and IFSTTAR. It will results hopefully in methods numerically robust, statistically efficient and also mixing modeling of both the uncertainties related to the data and the associated complex physical models related to the laws of physics and finite element models.

Damage detection in civil structures has been a main focus over the last decade. Still, those techniques need to be matured to be operable and installed on structures in operation, and thus be robust to environmental nuisances. Then, damage localization, quantification and prognosis should be in that order addressed by the team. To be precise and efficient, it requires correct mixing between signal processing, statistical analysis, Finite Elements (FEM) Models updating and a yet to be available precise modeling of the environmental effects such as temperature through 3D field reconstruction.

Theoretical and practical questions are more and more complex. For example, in civil engineering, from handling hundreds of sensors automatically during some long period of time to localize and quantify damage with or without numerical models. Very large heavily instrumented structures are yet to come and they will ask for a paradigm in how we treat them from a renewed point of view. As the structures become large and complex, also the thermal and aeroelastic (among other) modeling becomes complex. Bridges and aircraft have been the main focus of our research of the past and still will be our concern. Opening our expertise on new applications topics such as helicopters and wind energy converters is also part of our priorities.


The main objectives of the team are first to pursue current algorithmic research activities, in order to accommodate still-to-be-developed complex physical models. More precisely, we want successively

  • To develop statistical algorithms robust to noise and variation in the environment

  • Handle transient and highly varying systems under operational conditions

  • To consider the impact of uncertainties on the current available identification algorithms and develop efficient, robust and fast implementation of such quantities

  • To consider relevant non trivial thermal models for usage in rejection based structural health monitoring and more generally to mix numerical model, physical modeling and data

  • To develop theoretical and software tools for monitoring and localization of damages on civil structures or instability for aircrafts

  • To explore new paradigms for handling of very large and complex structures heavily instrumented with new challenges (distributed computing)

  • To study the characteristics of the monitored mechanic structures in terms of electromagnetic propagation, in order to develop monitoring methods based on electrical instrumentations.

  • To consider society concerns (damage quantification and remaining life prognosis)

Introduction to physics driven dynamical models in the context of civil engineering elastic structures

The design and maintenance of flexible structures subject to noise and vibrations is an important topic in civil and mechanical engineering. It is an important component of comfort (cars and buildings) and contributes significantly to the safety related aspects of design and maintenance (aircrafts, aerospace vehicles and payloads, long-span bridges, high-rise towers... ). Requirements from these application areas are numerous and demanding.

Detailed physical models derived from first principles are developed as part of system design These models involve the dynamics of vibrations, sometimes complemented by other physical aspects (fluid-structure interaction, aerodynamics, thermodynamics).

Laboratory and in-operation tests are performed on mock-up or real structures, in order to get so-called modal models, ie to extract the modes and damping factors (these correspond to system poles), the mode shapes (corresponding eigenvectors), and loads. These results are used for updating the design model for a better fit to data, and sometimes for certification purposes (e.g. in flight domain opening for new aircrafts, reception for large bridges).

The monitoring of structures is an important activity for the system maintenance and health assessment. This is particularly important for civil structures. Damaged structures would typically exhibit often very small changes in their stiffness due to the occurrence of cracks, loss of prestressing or post tensioning, chemical reactions, evolution of the bearing behavior and most importantly scour. A key difficulty is that such system characteristics are also sensitive to environmental conditions, such as temperature effects (for civil structures), or external loads (for aircrafts). In fact these environmental effects usually dominate the effect of damage. This is why, for very critical structures such as aircrafts, detailed active inspection of the structures is performed as part of the maintenance. Of course, whenever modal information is used to localize a damage, the localization of a damage should be expressed in terms of the physical model, not in terms of the modal model used in system identification. Consequently, the following elements are encountered and must be jointly dealt with when addressing these applications: design models from the system physics, modal models used in structural identification, and, of course, data from sensors. Corresponding characteristics are given now: Design models are Finite Element models, sometimes with tens or hundreds of thousands elements, depending on professional habits which may vary from one sector to another. These models are linear if only small vibrations are considered; still, these models can be large if medium-frequency spectrum of the load is significant. In addition, nonlinearities enter as soon as large vibrations or other physical effects (aerodynamics, thermodynamics, ..) are considered. Moreover stress-strain paths and therefore the response (and load) history comes into play.

Sensors can range from a handful of accelerometers or strain gauges, to thousands of them, if NEMS ( Nano Electro Mechanical Structures), MEMS (Microelectromechanical systems) or optical fiber sensors are used. Moreover, the sensor output can be a two-dimensional matrix if electro magnet (IR (infrared), SAR, shearography ...) or other imaging technologies are used.

Multi-fold thermal effects

The temperature constitutes an often dominant load because it can generate a deflection as important as that due to the self-weight of a bridge. In addition, it sometimes provokes abrupt slips of bridge spans on their bearing devices, which can generate significant transient stresses as well as a permanent deformation, thus contributing to fatigue.

But it is also well-known that the dynamic behavior of structures under monitoring can vary under the influence of several factors, including the temperature variations, because they modify the stiffness and thus the modes of vibration. As a matter of fact, depending on the boundary conditions of the structure, possibly uniform thermal variations can cause very important variations of the spectrum of the structure, up to 10%, because in particular of additional prestressing, not forgetting pre strain, but also because of the temperature dependence of the characteristics of materials. As an example, the stiffness of elastomeric bearing devices vary considerably in the range of extreme temperatures of moderate countries. Moreover, eigenfrequencies and modal shapes do not depend monotonically with temperature. Abrupt dynamical behavior may show up due to a change of boundary conditions e.g. due to limited expansion or frost bearing devices. The temperature can actually modify the number of contact points between the piles and the main span of the bridge. Thus the environmental effects can be several orders of magnitude more important than the effect of true structural damages. It will be noted that certain direct methods aiming at detecting local curvature variations stumble on the dominating impact of the thermal gradients. In the same way, the robustness and effectiveness of model-based structural control would suffer from any unidentified modification of the vibratory behavior of the structure of interest. Consequently, it is mandatory to cure dynamic sensor outputs from thermal effects before signal processing can help with a diagnostics on the structure itself, otherwise the possibility of reliable ambient vibration monitoring of civil structures remains questionable. Despite the paramount interest this question deserves, thermal elimination still appears to challenge the SHM community.

Toward a multidisciplinary approach

Unlike previously mentioned blind approaches, successful endeavours to eliminate the temperature from subspace-based damage detection algorithms prove the relevance of relying on predictive thermo-mechanical models yielding the prestress state and associated strains due to temperature variations. As part of the CONSTRUCTIF project supported by the Action Concertée Incitative Sécurité Informatique of the French Ministry for Education and Research, very encouraging results in this direction were obtained and published. they were substantiated by laboratory experiments of academic type on a simple beam subjected to a known uniform temperature. Considering the international pressure toward reliable methods for thermal elimination, these preliminary results pave the ground to a new SHM paradigm. Moreover, for one-dimensional problems, it was shown that real time temperature identification based on optimal control theory is possible provided the norm of the reconstructed heat flux is properly chosen. Finally, thermo-mechanical models of vibrating thin structures subject to thermal prestress, prestrain, geometric imperfection and damping have been extensively revisited. This project led by Inria involved IFSTTAR where the experiments were carried out. The project was over in July 2006. Note that thermo-mechanics of bridge piles combined with an ad hoc estimation of thermal gradients becomes of interest to practicing engineers. Thus, I4S's approach should suit advanced professional practice. Finite element analysis is also used to predict stresses and displacements of large bridges in Hong-Kong bay .

Temperature rejection is the primary focus and obstacle for SHM projects I4S participates in civil engineering, like SIMS project in Canada, ISMS in Danemark or SIPRIS in France.

A recent collaboration between Inria and IFSTTAR has demonstrated the efficiency of refractometry-based methods for health monitoring of some civil engineering structures, notably external post-tensioned cables. Based on a mathematical model of electromagnetic propagation in mechanical structures, the measurement of reflected and transmitted electromagnetic waves by the monitored structures allows to detect structural failures. The interaction of such methods with those based on mechanical and thermal measurements will reinforce the multidisciplinary approach developed in our team.

Models for monitoring under environmental changes - scientific background

We will be interested in studying linear stochastic systems, more precisely, assume at hand a sequence of observations Yn measured during time,

X n + 1 = A X n + V n Y n = H X n (1)

where Vn is a zero mean process, A is the transition matrix of the system, H is the observation matrix between state and observation, and Xn the process describing the monitored system. Xn can be related to a physical process (for example, for a mechanical structure, the collection of displacements and velocities at different points). Different problems arise

1/ identify and characterize the structure of interest. It may be possible by matching a parametric model to the observed time series Yn in order to minimize some given criterion, whose minimum will be the best approximation describing the system,

2/ decide if the measured data describe a system in a so called "reference" state (the term "reference" is used in the context of fault detection, where the reference is considered to be safe) and monitor its deviations with respect of its nominal reference state.

Both problems should be addressed differently if

1/ we consider that the allocated time to measurement is large enough, resulting in a sequence Yn whose size tends to infinity, a requirement for obtaining statistical convergence results. It corresponds to the identification and monitoring of a dynamical system with slow variations. For example, this description is well suited to the long-term monitoring of civil structures, where records can be measured during relatively (to sampling rate) large periods of time (typically many minutes or hours).

2/ we are interested in systems, whose dynamic is fast with respect to the sampling rate, most often asking for reaction in terms of seconds. It is, for example, the case for mission critical applications such as in-flight control or real-time security and safety assessment. Both aeronautics and transport or utilities infrastructures are concerned. In this case, fast algorithms with sample-by-sample reaction are necessary.

The monitoring of mechanical structures can not be addressed without taking into account the close environment of the considered system and their interactions. Typically, monitored structures of interest do not reside in laboratory but are considered in operational conditions, undergoing temperature, wind and humidity variations, as well as traffic, wind, water flows and other natural or man-made loads. Those variations do imply a variation of the eigenproperties of the monitored structure, variations to be separated from the damage/instability induced variations.

For example, in civil engineering, an essential problem for in operation health monitoring of civil structures is the variation of the environment itself. Unlike laboratory experiments, civil structure modal properties change during time as temperature and humidity vary. Traffic and comparable transient events also influence the structures. Thus, structural modal properties are modified by slow low variations, as well as fast transient non stationarities. From a damage detection point of view, the former has to be detected, whereas the latter has to be neglected and not perturb the detection. Of course, from a structural health monitoring point of view the knowledge of the true load is in itself of paramount importance.

In this context, the considered perturbations will be of two kinds, either

1/ the influence of the temperature on civil structures, such as bridges or wind energy converters : as we will notice, those induced variations can be modeled by a additive component on the system stiffness matrix depending on the current temperature, as

K = K s t r u c t + K T .

We will then have to monitor the variations in Kstruct independently of the variations in KT, based on some measurements generated from a system, whose stiffness matrix is K.

2/ the influence of the aeroelastic forces on aeronautical structures such as aircrafts or rockets and on flexible civil structures such as long-span bridges : we will see as well that this influence implies a modification of the usual mechanical equation (2 ) as

M Z ¨ + C Z ˙ + K Z = V (2)

where (M,C,K) are the mass, damping and stiffness matrices of the system and Z the associated vector of displacements measured on the monitored structure. In a first approximation, those quantities are related by (2 ). Assuming U is the velocity of the system, adding U dependent aeroelasticity terms, as in (3 ), introduces a coupling between U and (M,C,K).

M Z ¨ + C Z ˙ + K Z = U 2 D Z + U E Z ˙ + V (3)

Most of the research at Inria since 10 years has been devoted to the study of subspace methods and how they handle the problems described above.

Model (2 ) is characterized by the following property (we formulate it for the single sensor case, to simplify notations): Let y-Ny+N be the data set, where N is large, and let M,P sufficiently smaller than N for the following objects to make sense: 1/ define the row vectors Yk=(ykyk-M),|k|P; 2/ stack the Yk on top of each other for k=0,1,,P to get the data matrix 𝒴+ and stack the column vectors YkT for k=0,-1,,-P to get the data matrix 𝒴-; 3/ the product =𝒴+𝒴- is a Hankel matrix. Then, matrix on the one hand, and the observability matrix 𝒪(H,F) of system (2 ) on the other hand, possess almost identical left kernel spaces, asymptotically for M,N large. This property is the basis of subspace identification methods. Extracting 𝒪(H,F) using some Singular Value Decomposition from then (H,F) from 𝒪(H,F) using a Least Square approach has been the foundation of the academic work on subspace methods for many years. The team focused on the numerical efficiency and consistency of those methods and their applicability on solving the problems above.

There are numerous ways to implement those methods. This approach has seen a wide acceptance in the industry and benefits from a large background in the automatism literature. Up to now, there was a discrepancy between the a prior efficiency of the method and some not so efficient implementations of this algorithm. In practice, for the last ten years, stabilization diagrams have been used to handle the instability and the weakness with respect to noise, as well as the poor capability of those methods to determine model orders from data. Those methods implied some engineering expertise and heavy post processing to discriminate between model models and noise. This complexity has leads the mechanical community to adopt preferably frequency domain methods such as Polyreference LSCF over the years. Our focus has been on improving the numerical stability of the subspace algorithms by studying how to compute the least square solution step in this algorithm. This yields to a very efficient noise free algorithm, which in the past year has provided a renewed acceptance in the mechanical engineering community for the subspace algorithms. In the past years we focused on improving speed and robustness of those algorithms.

Subspace methods can also be used to test whether a given data set conforms a model: just check whether this property holds, for a given pair {data, model}. Since equality holds only asymptotically, equality must be tested against some threshold ε; tuning ε relies on so-called asymptotic local approach for testing between close hypotheses on long data sets — this method was introduced by Le Cam in the 70s. By using the Jacobian between pair (H,F) and the modes and mode shapes, or the Finite Element Model parameters, one can localize and assess the damage.

In oder to discriminate between damage and temperature variations, we need to monitor the variations in Kstruct while keeping blind to the variations in KT in statistical terms, we must detect and diagnose changes in K struct while rejecting nuisance parameter KT. Several techniques were explored in the thesis of Houssein Nasser, from purely empirical approaches to (physical) model based approaches. Empirical approaches do work, but model based approaches are the most promising and a focus of our future researches. This approach requires a physical model of how temperature affects stiffness in various materials. This is why a large part of our future research is devoted to the modeling of such environmental effect.

This approach has been used also for flutter monitoring in the thesis of Rafik Zouari for handling the aeroelastic effect.

PEGASE platform development

We have developed a generic wireless platform that can be considered as the a result of redundant needs in wireless monitoring especially applied to civil engineering monitoring applications. This platform includes software and hardware bricks and aims at being generic by its native implementation of sober components, the worldwide TCP/IP protocol (802.11g), a signal processor, a small GPS receiver, and a micro embedded operating system (μClinux).

Since 2009, this platform -named PEGASE - is subject of an industrial transfer that has generated some tens of individual sales. A set of pluggable boards (that integrate the application specific sensing operation) offers a ready-to-use panel of wireless sensing solutions for developing specific applications as well as they can be seen as prototyping boards for further electronic developments.

As PEGASE platform reached a mature level of dissemination, IFSTTAR recent efforts are now leaded with the goal of improving its wireless capacities. Those works concern energy saving while keeping a high level of embedded processing, of sampling rate or time-synchronization.

As software layers are mainly written in standard C language under Linux OS, those pragmatic solutions could easily be re-used by even radically different systems. The focus will specifically be pointed on: an algorithm that allows PEGASE wireless boards to be synchronized up to some uS using a GPS technique while keeping the GPS receiver OFF most of the time; a description of how the use of an operating system such as μClinux allows a full and remotely update of wireless sensors; the hardware and software strategies that have been developed to make PEGASE fully autonomous using solar cells.

The main characteristics of PEGASE feature are the following:

  • Use of TCP/IP/WiFi as the wireless protocol: reliable, low-cost, scalable (IP is the worldwide protocol). Turned OFF when PEGASE doesn't communicate.

  • Use of the Analog Device low-power Blackfin BF537 as core processor (Digital Signal Processor): 16 bits processor able of complex operations.

  • Implementation of a small and low-power GPS receiver to ensure localization and, first of all, absolute time synchronization up to few μ ms GMT.

  • μClinux as the embedded operating system: allows high level of abstraction while PEGASE algorithms are then programmed using standard ANSI C language.

Since its first version on January 2008, PEGASE has been used in various configurations where its properties fitted specific needs. Since a third-party partner (A3IP company) has been licensed by IFSTTAR, PEGASE has been sold in hundreds of specimens and implemented in various configurations. This dissemination proved the capacity of wireless systems to really answer a large spectrum of applications. Developments in progress have the goal to increase this panoply. Even if μClinux and WiFi integration could be considered as heavy, the result is a great ability for developers or customers to achieve their own applications. The genericity of C language and the worldwide IP protocol make them ubiquitous. A quite expert job has been leaded to develop specific embedded drivers under μClinux OS in order to get specific behaviors for time synchronization, quartz drift auto-training and correction. This specific and dynamic correction takes temperature effects into account and the result is an absolute time synchronisation better that 4 μS. Even if technologies evolve (components, processor, batteries...), generic principle could be extracted independently from technological choices. Those main principles are: daughter/mother boards, Linux integration, a ready to use c-object library, a boost circuit linked to a MPPT algorithm, GPS synchronization and quartz correction. Most of the improvements can be reused and applied to other wireless platforms even using drastically different electronic implementations.

PEGASE platform has the goal to represent an adapted tool to help companies and laboratories in their instrumentation needs in Civil Engineering applications, Structural Health Monitoring in general and for Non Destructive Techniques tools design. Initial version of PEGASE has been sold in hundreds of samples in France or Europe to small or significant companies such as Vinci, Eurovia, SNCF, Cofiroute...