Oversite: Reaching into the Future
An important part of our mission at Informed Infrastructure is to act as a resource on current practice as well as what readers can expect in the future. We do this in every issue with our “Future Forward” profile, which provides a window into applied research that’s advancing materials, modeling, visualization, sensing, project process, systems and more.
These profiles provided many interesting ideas during the first year of print publication: carbon nanotubes as bridge material and sensor; seismic solutions that increase resilience; asset management as an ISO standard; sensors that extend the smart-grid concept to smart water; advancing infrastructure as an economic edge; and bridge inspections with autonomous aircraft.
In this issue, we present the inaugural “Infrastructure Industry Outlook” with a future-forward focus from our Editorial Advisory Board. These practitioners and thought leaders provide a grounded view on the changes they’re witnessing and look ahead to help readers understand what they can expect in the next five years.
Pace of Automation
The pace of change is accelerating in terms of what’s possible in engineering modeling, simulation and analysis as well as realizing these new designs with automated manufacturing and construction processes.
The last year saw buildings printed from models in China ; a company that perfected 3D printing in metal and is using robots to build a bridge in Amsterdam ; and a clever use of drones working together to autonomously build a rope bridge , although that was in a lab.
The rise of automation and artificial intelligence is disconcerting to many, particularly in regard to the future of our own employment, but it’s important to remember that the first industrial revolution raised similar alarms. Things certainly will change dramatically and disruptively, yet new possibilities will present themselves.
How soon until you’re using a robot every day in your own practice? If the advancements of unmanned aircraft systems for autonomous surveying and mapping are the example, it could be as soon as this year.
In His Eyes
To see a mind-bending leap forward into what’s becoming possible, read this prognostication from alternative-rock legend Peter Gabriel. In a yearly exercise on Edge.org, which asks leading scientists and thought leaders about scientific breakthroughs in the last year that inspired them, Gabriel focuses on brain scanners that are getting better (and cheaper) at recording our thoughts.
The next step is brain-reading devices that recognize patterns from these scanners to create “a visual dictionary of thought.” The idea that our thoughts will leap out of our heads and become a means for communication is unsettling, and Gabriel suggests that many converging innovations will make this possible within the next 10 years.
As alarming as this concept may be, the example Gabriel uses is a real eye opener for the infrastructure community. He suggests that plugging our thoughts into the material world will be the real game changer, where architects and designers can share and collaborate on their thoughts, and the resulting designs can be printed and assembled in the same day.
While we’re still on the progression from drawing to modeling, Gabriel made the leap to thought-controlled construction; and perhaps it’s the next logical progression. This will be a year of far-greater immersion into models thanks to the mainstreaming of augmented-reality hardware. It’s not difficult to see that the increasing familiarity and comfort of living in our models might lead to a more-fluid leap from modeling to manufacture.
By providing insight into innovation, Informed Infrastructure helps readers plan and watch out for what’s coming as well as take advantage of the new skills and knowledge coming from a fresh workforce. If you haven’t heard already, the Millennial generation (ages 18-34) overtook the Baby Boomers this year and will continue to expand its dominant influence for more than 50 years to come.
Given Millennial’s compounding influence and interest in technology advancement, tailoring our content toward the future and helping readers retool their practice to advance model-based design are a means of preservation.