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From the Editor: No Surprise, but Engineering Gets ‘Smarter’ Every Year

Robert Schickel on May 5, 2023 - in Articles, Column

In this annual Smart Engineering issue of Informed Infrastructure, you will read about great new ideas and products that are not only more efficient and economical, but also better for our environment. Isn’t this the definition of a win-win-win proposition?

I always appreciate the advances being made in the engineering world. As I quickly reviewed some of the topics in this issue, I realized that a lot has changed in our profession—even in the last decade, let alone when I started as a new engineer. The following are some examples of engineering solutions in this issue that are new to me since I retired a few years ago.

A Peak Inside

One of this issue’s columns discusses drones, which have been used in the engineering profession for some time now. When searching for “drone” on the internet, the results will try to sell you many different types and brands of drones and describe how they’re used. You will not find the definition of the word meaning “low, continuous humming sound” (the noise a drone makes) unless you also add “definition” to the search.

However, “bendable concrete” is relatively new to me. As I remember, the goal of designing structural systems was to limit the amount of deflection, not allow for any “bending.” Perhaps we need a new factor to measure the bendability of a concrete mix. I read that bendable concrete doesn’t crack as much as conventional concrete. My non-engineer friends always ask me why we build with concrete when it cracks all the time; soon this question may not come up. In addition, the benefit of eliminating expansion joints would be an economic plus. Add to that the ability to assist flexibility in earthquake design, and you have another of those winning situations.

There’s an article that describes fairly new technology being used in flood protection and stormwater treatment. The details about smart ponds are described by author Carol Brzozowski, and this is a truly exciting development. Smart ponds react according to weather reports to reduce flooding by emptying themselves before a storm, providing more time for new stormwater to settle. I wonder if they get the data about cloud formations from “the cloud” …

In the “Future Forward” column, Rifat Alam discusses how artificial intelligence (AI) will influence how we engineer solutions. Although AI seems a bit controversial in many areas, its use in engineering can be a major time-saving technology.

More Options for My Vehicle

Getting back to initiatives that affect me directly, President Biden set a goal to build a network of a half-million electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030. I say directly, because I own an EV and am very interested in adding charging stations for my convenience. Currently, it takes a little more planning to make long-distance trips. Although we’ve all heard these goals before, it’s difficult to imagine meeting them in seven years.

The federal program has two main parts: the Community Program and the Corridor Program. The Community Program provides for charging stations and alternative fueling stations that are publicly accessible and could be used during work hours or shopping or recreation times. The Corridor Program places charging and refueling stations along designated “alternative fuel corridors.” To me, this says there’s funding available for some fairly major work for civil and utility engineers.

There already are plans to create multi-type refueling stations that show some innovative design features. Since charging/refueling can take a bit longer than conventional gasoline, there are opportunities for completely new types of facilities incorporating not only the refueling ports, but also parks and walkways and playgrounds and food services (for an example, see www.forgeprize.com).

Obviously, engineers have been acting in “smart” ways throughout history. The tag now means we should continue to use new technology in new ways to create more-efficient and more-effective means to save our environment. 


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About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel was born in New Jersey and received his BS in Civil Engineering degree in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana. His career started as a bridge design engineer and expanded to include design of various transportation facilities, including highways, bridges, rail lines and stations, and airport runways. Mr. Schickel managed engineering offices ranging from 20 to 140 people. He also served as a consultant to a large utility company. Mr. Schickel currently resides in Indiana and serves as Adjunct Professor for the College of Engineering at Valparaiso University. He enjoys his retired life at his lake house, playing golf, listening to music and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

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