3D Modeling and Infrastructure Technology Get Smarter

Companies are working to advance existing technologies, and change the way infrastructure is delivered.

  • Advanced sensor technology is also being used to track the movements of heavy equipment such as graders in order to optimize efficiencies
  • Experts are also looking at the applications crowdsourcing can have on infrastructure development.
  • Technological advancement alone is not sufficient to spur new infrastructure projects

Advancements such as artificial intelligence and augmented realty are increasingly changing how infrastructure projects are planned, constructed and managed.

Concepts such as 3D modeling are not new. However, some such as Trimble are currently working to advance augmented reality technology that will help stakeholders identify potential problems prior to construction.

Mike Carris of Trimble Consulting Services said during CG/LA Infrastructure’s 10th North American Infrastructure Leadership Forum said that that intelligent 3D modeling with augmented realty can allow an entity to overlay an existing sewer system to see exactly where the pipes are underground before digging or drilling commences. He added that the technology can allow stakeholder visualize the completed structure on the site before it is ever built, in order to ensure that it is properly aligned within the correct boundaries.

“If the first step is right of way acquisition, then I can’t start clearing and grubbing until I acquire that right of way,” Carris said. “Knowing what right of way has been acquired throughout the length of the project helps the contractor start their work flow.”

Carris added that advanced sensor technology is also being used to track the movements of heavy equipment such as graders in order to optimize efficiencies. He noted that sensor technology can map the ground while a grader is compacting asphalt. That data can be brought back into the 3D model and used to provide a cost justification for the project’s lifecycle.

Experts are also looking at the applications crowdsourcing can have on infrastructure development. Ariel Seidman, CEO and founder of Hivemapper, said the Silicon Valley startup has created a software tool that creates 3D maps from video feeds provided by its clients.


“THE CHALLENGE NOW IS HOW DO WE ANALYZE THE INFORMATION FROM THE DATA WE’VE GENERATED.” — JACQUES MARCHAND, PRESIDENT, SIMCO TECHNOLOGIES


“[The technology] is being built on the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence,” Seidman said, noting that clients will be able to see details such as slight shifts in terrain. He added that clients can also ask the interactive map questions about specific changes in terrain in order to learn more.

Data challenges

While AI and sensor technologies are being mobilized to make infrastructure development faster and cheaper, there are some observers who maintain that large amounts of data alone are not sufficient to develop infrastructure projects.

“Over the past five years, things have evolved quite dramatically,” SIMCO Technologies’ President Jacques Marchand said. The Montreal, Canada-based firm specializes in “durability engineering” technology that uses sophisticated materials analysis techniques and predictive models to determine how concrete structures will hold up over time.

Marchand said that, with increased use of drones and sensors, the company can generate about 20,000 times more information on the actual condition of a structure in less than a day. He added that, five years ago, it would take an onsite team months to analyze a portion of a structure such as a cooling tower.

“With quick generation of data, SIMCO has more time to focus on areas where it does find damage on a structure,” Marchand said. “The challenge now is how do we analyze the information from the data we’ve generated.”

Michael Salvato, vice president of infrastructure advisory services at Mott MacDonald, said the focus on these developing technologies should be about demonstrating value.

“How should we use digital technologies to make infrastructure faster, smarter and more efficient?” he asked. “If you simply focus on cost cutting, you’ll never see the value being created out of this data that is being generated.”

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