The formation of scour patterns at bridge piers is driven by the forces at the boundary of the water flow. In most experimental scour studies, indirect processes have been applied to estimate the shear and normal stress using measured velocity profiles. The estimations are based on theoretical models and associated assumptions. However, the turbulence flow fields and boundary layer in the pier-scour region are very complex. In addition, available turbulence models cannot account accurately for the bed roughness effect. Direct measurement of the boundary shear and normal stress and their fluctuations are attractive alternatives. However, this approach is a challenging one especially for high spatial resolution and high fidelity measurements. The authors designed and fabricated a prototype miniature shear stress sensor including an EDM machined floating plate and a high-resolution optical encoder. Tests were performed both in air as well as operation in water with controlled flow. The sensor sensitivity, stability and signal-to-noise level were measured and evaluated. The detailed test results and a discussion of future work will be presented in this paper.© (2011) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.