Illegally overloaded trucks cause a lot of wear and tear on the nation's highways, but they are difficult to single out. Meanwhile, stops at weighing stations cost all truck drivers valuable time. Deborah Chung wondered: Why not turn the highway itself into a giant scale?
Chung, a materials scientist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, got the idea when she discovered that compressing concrete facilitates electricity conduction. She then tried mixing carbon fibers into the concrete, which boosts the effect to an easily measured level. In lab tests, she's weighed even light objects like bicycles with her material. On highways, signals from active concrete could trigger roadside cameras to pick out overweight trucks. Such a system could also help keep traffic moving smoothly. According to Chung, "Throughout the system you could monitor where each vehicle is, how fast it's moving, and how heavy it is, so it allows for really smart highways."