The United for Infrastructure last week was rich with virtual events that included an address from US President Joseph Biden. This year's "Lead With Infrastructure" theme included discussions about investments, policies, and reforms needed to keep people safe, to make families healthier, communities more resilient and equitable, and drive economic growth and prosperity.
One of the virtual events focused on infrastructure innovation and some examples of the new technology that might make a difference in the industry. Moderated by Don DeLoach, Founder, and Managing Partner at Rocket Wagon Venture Studios, the panel included Eric Simone, Founder and CEO at ClearBlade, Martin Rapos, CEO at AKULAR, Peter Torrellas, Partner / VP at Siemens Advanta, Said Ouissal, CEO & Founder at ZEDEDA, and Stefan Gaa, Product Owner at Bosch RefinemySite.
DeLoach first asked the panelists for their insights on the emerging technologies they've seen in the infrastructure and construction industries.
"I'm obviously big on edge computing, and I think the synergy between edge and cloud and on-prem is critical, especially as we build out infrastructure," said Simone who's company focuses on Intelligent Assets. "You're seeing this today with nodes going into cell towers, and basically tiny data centers that are going to be placed everywhere that along with, 5g is one of the communication protocols."
Torellas discussed a new technique, not a technology.
"The biggest technologies that we see emerging right now are people's mindsets. I think there's a way of looking at the world that is fundamentally different and more accelerating than anything that we knew before," said Torellas. "You have these amazing things like those low code platforms, where you have citizen developers, people who use the infrastructure, people who think about the infrastructure now being able to generate software and code to make it even better."
DeLoach then asked the panelists about the role platform providers play in bringing together infrastructure-related systems.
Ouissal discussed the need to make infrastructure technology more accessible for all constituents.
"We got to make technology simpler, right? Then it becomes more accessible, and then more people from different industries can work together," Ouissal said. "What platform players can do is take away all that complexity and make sure that developers and business people can actually focus on higher-level parts and the parts that are relevant to their backgrounds or their objectives."
DeLoach then asked Rapos about the role augmented reality technology can play for infrastructure and construction modernization. Rapos discussed how building information modeling (BIM) tools, including AR, can be optimized.
"Once you are able to actually utilize and leverage your BIM model, it's intuitive enough that you are able to navigate through it and you are able to access your data that you need, and then you are actually able to portray and overlay the data on to the physical," said Rapos. "Then it starts giving you the real-time data, and it starts giving you the analytics, it starts giving you the thresholds. So that's where you actually are able to utilize asset management through tools like augmented reality."
Gaa also shared Rapos' enthusiasm for BIM, stating the technology could cut costs considerably for the infrastructure and construction industries.
"You can see the BIM model as a collection of all the data of the building you want to establish, and this is what people are fascinated with. this digital twin of the building," said Gaa. "To bring it through the whole construction time from the planning to the execution and the operation time, very important, because most of the time, most costs are actually in the operation time and the facility management, which is why they should directly access this kind of data."
DeLoach then asked Torellas to discuss some of the more fascinating and cutting-edge areas that will make a difference in infrastructure modernization.
"From transportation to roads, to distribution transmission, the power generation, all of the coding and AI that optimizes all of those fleets, this stuff that we're talking about is coming together in ways that were unimaginable before," Torellas said. "Data is interlinking all different parties and all different industries, who are trusting each other with data, and enabling a labor market that is rising to the occasion to help us save our planet and do some good, which is super exciting."
DeLoach then pivoted the discussion, asking panelists what rethinking needs to be done to today's infrastructure security. Ouissal discussed the importance of keeping data secure.
"You have to make sure your infrastructure is secure because if it's not secure, then the data that gets created, propagated or consumed, is put into the wrong hands," said Ouissal. "It is as simple as that. The zero-trust approach and all of those other cybersecurity solutions are key to our vision of infrastructure important data."
DeLoach then asked the panelists which emerging technology they thought was going to make the biggest difference, and Gaa once again praised BIM solutions.
"BIM is about objects, and of course, it makes a huge impact on paper application. If your model is already about objects, this might have like a huge impact on all this prefabrication," said Gaa. "Together with 3D printing tools, drones and AI analyzing all this video data, seeing the progress on site, seeing safety problems, onsite people, not wearing helmets and so on, BIM can optimize all aspects of infrastructure."
Once finished with his questions, DeLoach gave all the panelists a chance for some final thoughts before the virtual event wrapped up. Simone discussed once more how essential it is to make infrastructure more accessible for all.
"We've got to create systems that are easy for people to use. We don't need more programmers," said Simone. "We need to educate these folks and raise their skills, but we don't need to turn them into programmers. We need to give them better tools that will help them succeed more when working."
Rapos talked about how infrastructure, in general, is changing and straying from its traditional roots.
"Infrastructure is more digital, right? When you thought of infrastructure before, basically, we were people who were building things," said Rapos. "As society is evolving, we now need to be able to overlay data, and need to be able to see the features and whatever is the underlying information of what you are building, on top of still actually building it."
Torellas closed out the event with optimism, responding to DeLoach's question about the societal impacts associated with the transformation of infrastructure.
"We've talked about feeling safe, uncertainty, changes, unprecedented times, incredible opportunities, shifts in labor markets, the education of children…once you pull at the spider's web of technology, transformation, and infrastructure, you are pulling at the world," Torellas said.
"For the new world we are heading into, just like technology is evolving, our leadership has to evolve as well. Leadership qualities, whether inclusiveness, diversity, mindfulness, consciousness, and whatever else is important to us, it will look different based on governance and policies as they evolve. Culture and mindset, things like equity, resilience, and sustainability…those are values, values that are going to define leadership.
How we lead and how we combine technology and people is going to be hugely important and a determining factor in how successful we are in building an incredible future, which I see, or the pitfalls of the dystopian science fiction novels I read as a child. The difference between those two outcomes is going to be at the seat of leadership going forward. Leadership will provide new technology that will enhance the technologies we have and make sure we have the right outcomes for society."
You can view the event on-demand here.
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