The task of mapping the country’s infrastructure is more than just getting the right drones and lidar and hooking everything up.
Dealing with an aging infrastructure around the world, governments are catching up on jobs that have been put off for decades. Urgency is paramount—what falls down now needs to be addressed now—but this approach doesn’t make logistical or financial sense in the long term. Technology must help speed up the process.
With the help of experts, many governments are attempting to identify and rehabilitate or replace bridges, roads and other infrastructure. And while technology can help with these tasks, there is no magic key that will quickly and painlessly document such assets. These problems are compounded by the issue of limited government finances and the task of quantifying and qualifying the condition of each asset.
Waiting for a collapse to occur seems to be the default plan for some governments, leading many to hope that the next collapse will not be fatal. This hands-on approach is no longer an option, and one of those answers to untie this technological Gordian knot is to use infrastructure mapping tools.
Are the tools ready?
But are the tools up to the task? Experts say they are, at least in part. New tools are also being developed. Drones, LIDAR, state-of-the-art 3D mapping systems and construction software, and proprietary platforms are all part of the solution.
The recently approved infrastructure plan promises to help in the long process of digitization, and some experts in the software-as-a-service (SAAS) niche say such funds have already freed up agencies interested in updating software and increase employee knowledge. Helping local governments digitize infrastructure assets is clearly the new cutting edge – promising faster, more accurate work and many savings – and capturing reality is a big part of this sea-change.
“I’ve seen a push toward a more digital transition lately,” said Brian Skripac, director of virtual design and engineering at the Design-Build Institute of America.
“I think it’s more of a digital transition … Utah is standardizing on digital delivery and Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia, Florida and Texas are making progress.”
Startups also see the huge opportunity that is part of the huge task of digitizing all infrastructure assets in the US. A group in Pittsburgh wants to capture the health of the city’s 450 bridges to demonstrate their scalable platform, compatible with the suite of reality capture tools, and designed to meet the maintenance needs of large infrastructure assets.
“The Infrastructure Act has drawn attention to our country’s deteriorating infrastructure problem,” said Alexander Baikovitz, co-founder and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Mach9 Robotics, which maps the bridges with its sensor-based mapping platform, an initiative called the Pittsburgh Bridge Initiative.
“We look at technology as a big part of the solution to addressing this nationwide challenge.”
This gargantuan task of mapping all of the country’s infrastructure is more than just getting the right drones, lidar and software etc. and hooking things up and Viola!!
People need to know how to use the systems and how to make the most of the data provided. Mach9 Robotics’ platform seems uniquely suited to help employees through every learning curve. By using its sensors to detect changes in a structure over time, the tool can alert inspectors to potential problems. This allows collaborators to see how the model representing the structure represents the actual object and its changing state. It’s a kind of technological alert system, or an extra pair of eyes that examines the infrastructure, looking for discrepancies.
And while the evidence is anecdotal, hopefully reports of infrastructure funds helping government go digital are true and indeed widespread. Local governments in particular need to update, with some reports giving the country’s bridges an overall rating of C-. The problem is bad.
“I think the challenge is twofold because it’s also a maintenance issue,” Skripac said. “Do you have the team members to manage this information? … institutionalized knowledge [often] is trapped in a person’s head.”
Also, the data provided is only as good as the information about the points associated with a model. As a result, this process of writing the details of a bridge plan into digital memory is often postponed by employees. This is understandable as it is not a painless endeavor.
To illustrate, consider eFacility LLC, a Pittsburgh facility management software company specializing in the digitization of infrastructure records. The company’s process begins by scanning an old document, such as a blueprint – a 2D document – and converting it to a 3D format so that the model can easily be updated over time.
“We have technology that allows you to use our system like a model,” said Ray Steeb, CEO of eFacility LLC. The system also allows users to refer back to documents that refer to the original document, such as B. Equipment operation and maintenance manuals and warranties. But these transitions take a long time—which is why consultants have entire niches of business dedicated specifically to digitizing records and hyperlinks.
Getting the up-to-date details of an asset like a bridge is work enough in and of itself. Ensuring that employees tasked with paying attention to these details don’t overlook the most important data is another matter. The usability of a software solution plays a role in whether it is fully utilized and Mach9 aims to make its highly compatible tool a part of the solution.
Mach9 combines ground and air vehicles equipped with sensors to collect data to create maps of the infrastructure that reflect its current state.
“By combining visual, spatial, inertial, GPS and radar data, Mach9’s technology can help infrastructure operators see the invisible. The Pittsburgh project has helped us refine our mapping technology to provide our commercial and government customers with robust, accurate, and rapid insights from the built world,” said Baikovitz.
“Mach9 has developed the latest 3D mapping and geospatial computer vision software in-house, which we are actively scaling with various survey, civil engineering and utility companies.”