Telescopic walls could rise on demand to stop flood waters

A University at Buffalo (UB; N.Y.) Ph.D. student has created what he hopes become “rise on-demand” flood walls. Jorge Cueto devised a patent-pending system of telescoping rectangular fiber-reinforced concrete boxes. The walls can be installed below ground level, to avoid blocking any water views, and can be raised when the threat of flooding occurs. Cueto also recently won the university’s Engineering & Applied Sciences Outstanding Young Alumnus Award.

University of Buffalo PhD candidate Jorge Cueto (polo shirt), founder of Smart Walls Construction LLC, in the lab developing telescopic flood walls. Photo Credit: Douglas Levere/University of Buffalo

University of Buffalo PhD candidate Jorge Cueto (polo shirt), founder of Smart Walls Construction LLC, in the lab developing telescopic flood walls. Photo Credit: Douglas Levere/University of Buffalo

His invention, called Smart Walls, won a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation. He had earlier won $8000 in seed funding from the Entrepreneurial Lab, a joint effort of the university’s School of Management; Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach; and the undergraduate Entrepreneurship Academy, to get the project going.

The inspiration for the telescoping walls struck in an emerging technologies class. The assignment was to identify a problem and then design a solution.

“I was literally sitting at my desk in my apartment. I am usually very efficient with space, to optimize its use,” Cueto said. “Then I started thinking of the hollow space inside massive columns. You’re not using that space, and I was playing with an umbrella.”

The idea clicked, and he started designing a telescopic structure.

Cueto, 34, entered numerous business contests in search of money for his fledgling company, Smart Walls Construction LLC. But success eluded him until he received the NSF award.

Now, his company occupies space in the UB business incubator and he will continue his research. He is devising a system of gaskets to keep water from entering the walls, which are built of a highly fibrous concrete for extra strength. Expandable flaps that will cover the space between the walls are also being designed.

Cueto has presented the walls at a meeting of the American Concrete Institute’s Strategic Development Council, and has garnered interest from seafront towns. The walls could be useful to protect private property and hospitals, which cannot have access permanently blocked.

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