Infrastructure is failing. It’s that simple. We’ve been saying it for years, but like a lack of cybersecurity initiatives, it doesn’t seem to be concerning enough for people to enlist action.
But with that being said, I have to really wonder how much we all really get it? Or are we just putting profit above risk? For several decades now industry experts and professors alike have been sounding alarms about our failing infrastructure.
Let me say at the outset, I am not putting the blame on any one company. At this point there is a lot of blame to go around. Perhaps we can put some of the blame the dot.com area. I think once corporate America got a taste of huge returns there was no going back. You just can’t put the toothpaste back in the bottle. Since the ‘80s investors are demanding double-digit returns.
As a result, we are not seeing the improvements being made in the necessary infrastructure. As most of you will recall, the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers), released its “report card” of sorts that assigns grades to different types of infrastructure here in the U.S. These grades are given on a scale of A-to-F (just like when in middle school), and are meant to reflect the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure. America’s overall grade point average is anything but impressive at D+. Keep in mind this report reflects analysis dating back to 2013, which is the most recent study. Interestingly, our highest grade was a B- in solid waste; and the lowest grade, a D- was given in both inland waterways and levees.
Perhaps most relevant to our discussion here are areas such as bridges, energy, and transportation. Bridges scored a C+ in 2013, energy scored a D+, and transportation was broken down into rail (D+), roads (D), and transit (D).
Since 1998, ASCE says our “grades” have been near failing, averaging Ds, often due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment. The fact remains we simply haven’t gotten better or worse since 2013. America’s next report card is due next year and all eyes are focused on the IoT (Internet of Things)-based solutions (sensors, remote monitoring, drones, etc.) to move the infrastructure to a much better place.
But let’s be very transparent here. In talking to manufacturers and folks in transit and transportation, logistics, and connected-car spaces, it’s clear that these businesses aren’t confident that the current infrastructure will support their needs in a decade. With this being said, this is why I am convinced now more than ever before the construction industry can lead the charge for public and private partnerships to adopt and embrace IoT solutions.
Once we deploy these solutions, we can solve infrastructure issues such as traffic and congestion, parking in cities, and open doors for the next generation of connected, autonomous vehicles. This includes insight into structural infrastructure such as bridges and anything made of concrete, buildings, and railways.
Already, in some places in the U.S., IoT solutions are being used and/or tested, but budgets are holding a lot of cities back. In some cases, cities are synchronizing traffic signals or using sensors in the roads to provide up-to-date parking information for commuters.
What’s more, the construction industry is in for a shift, as materials get more advanced.
For instance, there is such a thing as “self-healing concrete,” and it’s currently in field trials in the U.K. Deploying sensors that can keep track of a structure’s condition is an important way all infrastructure will need to be monitored going forward. And perhaps, with the continued discovery and creation of new, sustainable building materials and methods, such as 3D printing, the costs of repairing infrastructure will drop, making it even more affordable.
We will also see costs come down when tracking employees by using sensors for safety, tracking tools, AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) for repair and maintenance, inspections, reducing idle time, maximizing equipment, and reducing theft, just to name a few.
I know this isn’t wishful thinking. We are seeing IoT making great strides, but it’s only just beginning and it requires bigger investments and a greater commitment from everyone to make it work. In countless other scenarios, manufacturing, healthcare, financial services, we are finding ways to leverage the IoT to harness data and innovate with new technologies in order to improve processes and get things done quickly and cost effectively.
That is why we need to focus on this idea of “rebuilding America” with the IoT. As I mentioned earlier in this editorial, we have only just begun, so now is the time to turn to the IoT to help you rebuild your foundation and to look to IoT in ways you might not have ever thought possible. As technology is changing, so are the costs, solutions, and the possibilities, but only if we as society at large understand that embedded sensors and wireless communication can provide the data that is needed to help connect the infrastructure in the future. We also need to grasp the higher order that that facilities will even generate information for both users and managers to make intelligent decisions. The challenge, of course, is to secure the resources and the commitment to invest in them.
And then, and only then, can we see an entire chapter in our history’s future dedicated to paying and paving the way for the future of our transportation infrastructure and the future of smart cities. More specifically, if we are going to develop cutting-edge tech, we need to invest in the infrastructure that supports this technology. Simply, we need to identify the reasons for resistance and the threats to the sustainability of the highway network, grids, etc., before we can move forward.
We need to demonstrate that while new technologies are emerging, the need to fix infrastructure will not fade into the distant past if we do not address the mindset change that needs to occur quickly. It’s more than playing lip service to the benefits of advanced technology, but it requires putting the investment into upgrading the infrastructure to support all of the changes that these rapidly changing technologies are beginning to reach into the public sector. As this happens, it is important to grow that capacity so that public policy and technology are both not hindering progress.
Additionally, private businesses have a responsibility to take a stronger role in mobility services. The general takeaway here is that the need for transportation infrastructure will not decrease. However, the challenge is going to be able to incorporate all this changing technology. The key is to get both public and private involved to assure that infrastructure for the future. Let’s work together to get it done.
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