For this column, and perhaps the entire month, I will focus on infrastructure, energy, and IoT (Internet of Things) technology that will have the greatest impact. This is without question one area where our nation needs to spend a little—okay a lot—more focus, and perhaps resources to resolve.

First, I would be remiss if I didn’t start this column by looking at the United States’ infrastructure and more specifically by addressing the ASCE’s (American Society of Civil Engineers) infrastructure report card. Every four years, the ASCE grades the nation’s infrastructure across 16 categories.

If you read this blog or our Website, then you probably already know that the overall grade the ASCE awarded the U.S. in its latest report, which was released in 2017, was a “D+.” A “D+” is the same grade the U.S. received for overall infrastructure in 2013, but many of us are hoping that when the next report card comes out in 2021, the U.S. will earn a less-dismal grade.

Infrastructure is just plain necessary for modern life and business. As the ASCE points out, every family and every business needs infrastructure to thrive. And this includes everything from the roads we travel and the pipes that deliver clean drinking water to the waterways and railways that move goods from coast to coast.

One of the infrastructure categories that is not talked about enough is water. A new report from the NDRC (Natural Resources Defense Council) says water infrastructure costs in the U.S. are expected to exceed $1 trillion. That’s trillion with a “T.”

Decades-old systems for drinking water, wastewater, and storm water are simply not up to par. A lot of this infrastructure was put in place in the early and middle parts of last century, and the lifespan is supposed to be 75 to 100 years. There are more than 800,000 miles of public sewage pipes in the U.S. and another 500,000 miles of private sewers.

Many of these systems are not modern. They don’t leverage technology to maximize efficiency.

And, in many cases, they just aren’t built to withstand the changing climate and everything that scientists are saying are going to come along with it. This doesn’t even factor in the estimated increase in population, which will just add additional strain to the water and wastewater infrastructures.

Federal funds meant to help close the funding gap for water infrastructure are not being fully utilized, according to the NDRC’s report. This really isn’t acceptable, considering there are hundreds of thousands of water main breaks every year in our nation, costing us billions of dollars.

IoT technology can help us catch breaks immediately, limiting damage. It could even help catch breaks before they occur. Sensor systems and predictive analytics need to be applied to manage and maintain our water and our wastewater infrastructures to make sure we’re not wasting precious natural resources.

Sub-par infrastructure in general (not just water) not only affects every American’s life by making it less convenient, but also costs us real money. Every time the power goes out at your place of business and your employees leave early for the day, it costs your business. Every time your flight gets delayed or you get stuck in traffic, you’re losing valuable time. If you’re a homeowner and your home floods because a water main breaks, guess what? Those are your hard-earned dollars.

When we deploy IoT connected devices and solutions in our homes and businesses—not to mention our hospitals and our cities’ first-response systems—we all depend on a reliable connectivity infrastructure to keep our data flowing. So what’s the answer? Investment, for sure, is needed to close the sizable investment gap.

The ASCE suggests investment in infrastructure from the government and private sectors needs to increase from 2.5% to 3.5% of the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product) by 2025.

We’re also going to need to leverage technology. To help spur innovation, the ASCE’s “grand challenge,” which is basically a call to action for civil engineers to try to increase the value and capacity of our infrastructure, really does an excellent job of achieving this goal.

The “grand challenge” is prompting civil engineers to think outside the box and look for ways to transform the way the U.S. plans, delivers, operates, and maintains our nation’s infrastructure. Specifically, the goal of the grand challenge is to reduce the lifecycle cost of infrastructure by 50% by 2025.

We need more programs like this that encourage the brilliant minds in our country to think about new ways to solve not-so-new problems that affect us all. It’s up to all of us to come up with creative ideas that bring change. It’s time we work to bring change in the tech space to address the infrastructure challenges we face in the U.S. What ideas do you have?

We need to leverage the IoT to improve physical infrastructure, whether it’s through wireless sensing technologies, drones, or other devices and solutions that open doors for monitoring, managing, and optimizing new and existing infrastructure.

Infrastructure is key to continued innovation and economic success in the U.S., so it’s not something we can afford to ignore any longer. Technology can go a long way in ensuring the infrastructure we put in place will last the test of time. But it’s up to us to make it happen.

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