Telescopic walls could rise on demand to stop flood waters

Jorge Cueto, founder of Smart Walls Construction LLC, in the lab with his telescopic flood walls.

Jorge Cueto was running a successful consulting and construction company in Bogota, Colombia, and teaching civil engineering in a university five years ago, but he felt the need to do more.

“I wrote on the application for the Fulbright scholarship what I was trying to do. I was looking for something new, but I didn’t know what it was,” he said.

He won the scholarship, and by coincidence—one of his favorite professors in Bogota had graduated from the University at Buffalo—he came to UB. After finishing his master’s and PhD degrees, Cueto recently won the SEAS Outstanding Young Alumnus Award.

The award is a recognition of outstanding contributions to his career field and comes after a long struggle to win support for his invention: a telescoping structural system. Cueto devised a patent-pending system of telescoping rectangular fiber-reinforced concrete boxes that he hopes will be the basis for “rise on demand” flood walls. The walls can be installed below ground level, so as not to block any water views, and can be raised when the threat of flooding occurs.

His invention, called Smart Walls, won a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation. He had earlier won $8,000 from UB’s Entrepreneurial Lab to get the project going.

In an interesting twist, Cueto’s advisors, Andre Filiatrault and Amjad Aref, both professors in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, are now consultants with his company. Filiatrault notes, "With this NSF grant, Amjad and I are working for him now."