Change Leader: Modernize How You Perform Site Selection and Monitoring
These profiles are based on interviews, and the opinions and statements are those of the subject and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by this publication.
This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview above or by visiting bit.ly/3uigsB1.
Tony Agresta is the executive vice president and general manager of the Nearmap North American division.
Site selection for most infrastructure projects—large and small—typically involved “boots on the ground.” A team surveys and assesses the different possibilities using a variety of manual processes that evolved through years—from plane tables and paper maps to more-modern reality-capture scanners and photography—to decide if a location is suitable or not. But according to Agresta, this is not an efficient way to select a site.
“That has never been the best way to do it, because you’re requisitioning vehicles, you’re gassing up vehicles, you’re driving out there, you’re looking at attributes about that area, such as presence of vegetation, impact on neighboring communities, access points,” he notes. “A lot of times people travel long distances to evaluate these areas.”
Modern imagery data is a better option, he explains, allowing engineers to examine many sites in minute 3D detail from the comfort of their offices and homes.
“You can go online, quickly get access to it, and the imagery is up-to-date,” adds Agresta. “You’re getting a current perspective, and, at the same time, you have the historical archive, so you can see how the area has changed.”
As the infrastructure is built, imagery can assess its progress to monitor existing assets and land as well as future construction.
Evolution of Imagery
According to Agresta, aerial imagery evolved from “top-down” imagery, where users could only look at a building roof or road from a completely vertical perspective, to “oblique” imagery that uses angles to measure building heights, to 3D imagery that allows users to navigate a landscape in a photorealistic manner with additional elements such as tree height. The latest upgrade includes automatic detection through machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), which now can automatically detect construction sites or roof type/material or pavement markings that previously required manual interpretation.
“With AI, we can run algorithms against the entire library of imagery and automatically detect [important details],” notes Agresta. “Engineers are able to look at [multiple] areas within a compressed period of time.”
Agresta also explains that an important part of modern imagery use is the ability to import it into engineers’ existing AEC software platforms, such as Autodesk, Bentley Systems or Esri.
“Once the imagery is [imported], they can get into more-detailed design and measurement and annotation they need to do their job,” he adds. “We think that’s really important, and that’s how we’ve architected [Nearmap imagery] for engineers.”
New Infrastructure Law
Most everyone in the infrastructure industry has opinions about the new U.S. infrastructure law passed toward the end of 2021, and Agresta is no exception. “With growth in the U.S. economy and population comes the need to maintain and expand the current infrastructure,” he says.
He’s particularly excited about how the law requires technology to be used as part of the infrastructure development process. According to Agresta, the industry needs to ask the following questions in terms of using modern technology:
• How do you best get the job done?
• What access points do you have?
• What technology do you have, and how is this process going to become more efficient?
• How do you optimize the process rather than just throwing money at the problem?
• How do you optimize the spend and therefore get more out of the entire process?
Why Imagery Matters
Agresta believes modern imagery can streamline engineers’ workflows to perform sound visual inspections and site analysis with very detailed measurements.
“You’re going to be able to get a sense of the landscape and everything around it without really having to do anything else,” he notes. “You really get a close look at the landscape and the infrastructure needs directly from a mapbrowser.”
Collaboration is another benefit he cites, especially with workforces spread around the world and now often located in their homes.
“We’re all looking at the same picture, we’re logging into the same system,” notes Agresta. “It doesn’t make a difference where the engineers are.”