The main objective of the project is to develop, build, validate and subsequently exploit a unique air-bridge for surface transport vehicles that utilizes structural, high performance composite fabric, computer –controlled, pressurized air-filled beams (hereafter called High Bearing Capacity (HBC) air-beams) as the primary load-bearing structural spanning members. Scaled prototype HBC air-beams using a variety of commercial fabrics have been developed by CIMNE in the past few years and used to demonstrate the conceptual feasibility of such beams.

The objective of the project is therefore to develop the HBC air-beam technology of CIMNE into a fully functioning and easily deployable air-bridge. By an air-bridge we mean a light weight, low pressure, adaptive bridge formed by a collection of HBC beams connected by an upper deck of metallic, composite or hybrid material.

The new air-bridge will be readily applicable for facilitating emergency evacuation tasks, communication, provision of resources and rebuilding of devastated areas due to natural disasters. Indeed, many other applications of the air-bridges developed in this project exist in surface transport engineering (cars, lorries and trains) and in the building construction sector, among others.

The increasing load bearing capacity of the HBC air-beams is provided by a synergetic combination of low pressure air-beams and traditional building elements of civil engineering such as cables and struts. Despite of the promising features of the concept this type of HBC air-beams have not reached the market yet, and are limited to academic and research circles far from the industrial production sector.

Challenges in the development of the new air-bridge are the complete functional separation of tension and compression elements in the supporting HBC air-beams, the use of ultra resistant textile or polymer materials in the membrane hull and also as an alternative to cables for the tension element, the increasing high load bearing capacity comparable to conventional steel structures, the use of new compression elements in the HBC air-beams, allowing their foldability after de-inflation, ensuring the suppression of buckling in the compression element by a better elastic embedding on the air-hull, improving the resulting extraordinary light-weight and the adaptivity feature allowing a fast and simple erection and dismantling, small storage volume and easy transport. These unique properties will make the air-bridge developed in the project extremely attractive for surface transport vehicles and goods, as well as for many other applications in civil engineering.

CIMNE -- C/Gran Capitán SN, UPC Campus Nord , C1 , Barcelona, Spain -- airbridge@cimne.upc.edu