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Role of technology in designing future infrastructure

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The construction industry is not just one of the oldest industries; it is also one of the least digitized industries. Human societies could not have achieved incredible things without the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry, but many infrastructure building practices have not changed for centuries. . By nature and by default, the AEC is risk averse, which is an attitude that also applies to technology adoption.

Over the past decade, geospatial technology has helped illuminate how technology can transform infrastructure projects. The onset of the pandemic has accelerated the need to put these ideas into practice in reality. Physical projects had to stop or take a leap of faith in digital transformation.

The AEC industry is still in the early stages of AI adoption, taking steps toward the widespread digital literacy necessary for progress. However, the mindset shift is happening and the major players are taking this transition seriously. What was once a fringe idea will become a core value for future infrastructure projects.

Technology, construction and the demands of progress

The AEC industry is a conglomeration of many different disciplines that are currently being transformed by various technologies, and we are on the cusp of this exciting evolution. From the managerial level to the physical workplace, technology can be implemented to improve visibility, communication, efficiency and productivity, but it all starts with data.

In the 1980s, collaboration between data scientists and geographers began, bringing together two seemingly unrelated fields that revolutionized the way we map, measure, and understand physical environments. Now, marriages between different disciplines and technical fields are continuously expanding the possibilities. New technologies provide an entirely open field of implementation for how people can envision their future applications.

The adoption of algorithms and automation is one of the biggest changes in the construction industry. Previously, stakeholders manually estimated a project’s budget based on experience, but computers can more efficiently synthesize large amounts of data from a variety of sources. Today’s algorithms also scour past projects to find patterns of past successes and failures, so we can learn more about what works and what doesn’t. This is just the beginning of how digital data and automation can help infrastructure.

In terms of geospatial techniques, satellite technology revolutionized Earth observation, but the data was expensive and slow to acquire. Modern drone technology can deliver information faster, on demand, more accurately and at lower cost. For construction, data collected by drones can help transform a complex physical site into a highly detailed digital version. Digital Twin technology provides a regularly updated virtual 3D replica of any physical infrastructure that each stakeholder can use for monitoring and better decision making. This is a significant development for breaking down the silos that affect communication and in many ways mitigating the risks caused by physical site visits.

Construction is a dangerous profession. However, automation technology has the potential to eliminate much of this risk and speed up processes. 3D printing can be used in construction techniques that take time and are limited by human physics. In the future, autonomous vehicles and robots could safely perform more and more on-site work. AI Automation improves management and design, analyzing data that would take much longer to review and apply by humans alone.

Evolving infrastructures to meet the needs of society

Several pressures are placed on infrastructure to meet the needs of a rapidly changing society. Advancements in technology have created a landscape where people are accustomed to receiving resources and information quickly and efficiently. This creates additional pressure on existing assets. Smart technologies can be implemented in infrastructure in many ways, but retrofitting older infrastructure is more difficult.

Adverse events such as the pandemic cause a spike in the evolution of human needs and behaviors. As a result, infrastructure design and adaptation needs to catch up. Sudden changes such as millions of people working from home or a greater focus on preventing viruses have changed the way people interact with their environment. In terms of infrastructure, private and public buildings, transport, telecommunications and energy are likely to be impacted.

Technology can facilitate a pivot like this by quickly accumulating data and intelligence on altered factors so that decision makers have the tools to assess how to respond effectively and efficiently. A city is like a living organism with its various systems and energy flowing through it daily, acting as its heartbeat. Data is essential for diagnosing and facilitating changes within this ever-evolving organism.

Designing the cities of the future

To fully understand human needs, we need technology. In the future, we will need this technology to feed information in real time. If cities are like organisms, then smart technology embedded in infrastructure would represent an MRI scanner or a life support system showing constant and accurate information about the functioning of the city. With this technology in place, we can make better decisions about the design of our infrastructure and how urban processes interact with each other.

There has been increasing emphasis on building and updating new infrastructure to achieve sustainability goals such as energy efficiency or carbon neutrality. In the future, this will evolve into regeneration goals, so that the environmental footprint of the infrastructure benefits the environment instead of just reducing the impact. New technologies for power generation, water harvesting and filtration, and living walls will be essential for self-sustaining buildings, automating the maintenance of these systems, and collecting data.

Ultimately, these ideas require us to become more integrated as an industry. Humans work best when we collaborate. Geospatial and AI platforms currently in use operate independently per specific project. But if these platforms could be combined, connected and accessible to everyone, they could help national and global infrastructures on a monumental scale. A digital twin of an entire city providing real-time visibility and data on every building and system would greatly help improve functions, troubleshoot problems, and make design decisions.

There is still some fear surrounding artificial intelligence used in new technologies that are slowly transforming the AEC and other industries. But to realize the future technology-integrated utopias we envision, we will need to trust AI and identify the true social values ​​behind its use.