3 experts share their insights on the future of infrastructure maintenance
Posted on 13/11/2019
As part of the community building and cross collaboration goals of the Geospatial Insights Special Interest Group, the Maintenance of Infrastructure Assets using Geospatial Insights event is bringing together experts from across a range of sectors. The focus is on future proofing infrastructure and the challenges and opportunities this holds.
We spoke with three experts in their field about their views on the relevance of geospatial data in infrastructure projects and their subsequent maintenance.
Andrew recalls the application end of the wider satellite earth observation sector being both very niche and principally in the sphere of academia when he arrived from Australia in 2005. Commercial uptake was limited with the industry still very much in R&D activities. Over the years however this technology has evolved and grown and Andrew now focusses his time in understanding the overarching goals and the inhibitors of innovation for infrastructure clients instead of simply limiting the use of geospatial data to one-dimensional technical requirements. “The space industry is changing rapidly, but in many ways is still in its infancy – where satellite data is still priced and supplied as it was back when single images were sold on DVDs”, he says.
“But there is wide-scale availability of workflow automation, whether that’s for traditional algorithm deployments or machine learning classifiers to more quickly and reliably delivery specific information insights. Unlocking the potential of all this data is now available through infrastructure that simplifies heavy-duty data processing – and simplified APIs and greater web bandwidth allow for greater dissemination of raw data and data analytics. ”
“And of course on the market side, as these analytics and production workflows become more and more sophisticated and robust, there does need to be a change in mindset from engineers and decision makers towards trusting the capabilities and information provided from geospatial data.”
One way of bridging the gap between infrastructure companies and geospatial companies is to have more people in roles which elicit user requirements as part of their overall business process. By not limiting space competencies to simple technical requirement, there can be a greater efficiency in operational and commercial efforts. One example is Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry (InSAR), a processing technique offered by Telespazio VEGA, which when coupled with high resolution SAR data inputs, enables high fidelity observations of ground deformation – i.e. subsidence and heave – supporting the needs of asset managers decision makers in effective expenditure of both new capital investments and maintenance of existing assets within this dynamic landscape.
“Ultimately, I would like to instil confidence in potential end users that the technology does work, and also demonstrate candour about the limitations of geospatial data at certain sites and in particular scenarios,” says Andrew.
By speaking with integrity, Andrew hopes to challenge the hesitancy of some industries and compliment traditional ways of working by encouraging calculated risk-taking, leading to greater efficiency, safety and overall better financial value.
Holger began his career as a geological surveyor and became involved with a major research project at the BGS developing the capabilities for 3D geological modelling working closely with regulators, local authorities and the infrastructure sector. “Infrastructure is a wide term but we are initially focussed on pipes, cables, roads, buildings, electricity and telecommunications – we can see the value of these assets, both the physical and also the digital twin, for a whole range of reasons but initially we are focussing on safe digging.” The value in all of this data needs to be unlocked by making it interoperable and accessible, enabling the collaboration between the public and private sector. “One of the goals of the Geospatial Commission is to increase productivity and make data available in a way that enables smarter working both in the public as well as the private sector,” says Holger. “Better access to data leads to innovation and can be especially useful for SMEs. The more we bring the value of infrastructure location data to the forefront, the more companies and decision makers become aware of the value of good quality digital data and the skills and resources that are required.”
The Geospatial Commission’s first major project is the National Underground Asset Register (NUAR). This major intervention is a pilot project that is testing the sharing of data in a manner more clever than PDFs and paper maps. The operational feasibility is being tested out in London and North East. At the event, there will be a demonstration with real world actors from gas, electricity, water, telco and government authorities.
While this is Holger’s first interaction with the Geospatial Insights SIG, he is very much on board with the purpose of the group and KTN – to connect research and ideas and innovations with people in the wider sector of industry, SMEs and innovation companies. At the very centre of all this is bringing together people who wouldn’t usually cross paths.
Mark has had a number of years of experience in this field with his main aim being to help release the benefits of a National Digital Twin. “Geospatial is key because everything happens somewhere,” he says, “but we have to be aware that there are other substantial data sets too.” Like Holger, Mark emphasises the importance of digital twins in enabling better decision making. Innovation communities like the Infrastructure Industry Innovation Partnership (i3P) are particularly useful as they help transfer knowledge and turn ideas into opportunities. Fostering this collaborative culture across infrastructure clients and their supply chain helps drive increased value.
There is an essential need for a national programme to do what the market alone cannot do – to set the high-level rules of the game. The formation of the Geospatial Commission and the Centre for Digital Built Britain are strong steps in the right direction. And the pursuance of interoperability and consistency has the potential to unlock enormous value across the whole built environment.
The development of the geospatial sphere will be key to this as it is relevant to every part of the built environment – energy, transport, water, telecoms, waste, all buildings and their interface with the natural environment. It helps to provide a common language and drive collaboration. Grasping these opportunities is what will help the UK lead the world in this sector.
As the UK moves towards a connected and autonomous world, the upkeep, repurposing and smartening of aging infrastructure is key to building more resilient and sustainable cities. Balancing these challenges with growth is what will help the UK become a world leader in this sector.
If you are interested in hearing more from these experts and their colleagues, we will be live tweeting from the Maintenance of Infrastructure Assets using Geospatial Insights event.