Spatial technologies are widely used across the infrastructure industry, with applications throughout the asset lifecycle from design and construction all the way to maintenance and disposal. Here, Deanna Hutchinson, CEO of Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) talks about the current trends and challenges impacting the spatial sector.

According to Ms Hutchinson, spatial technology helps create safer and more efficient infrastructure, especially in the transportation industry.

“Spatial information is used in the design, construction and operation of roads, rail, shipping and air traffic. It’s used to plan transport infrastructure by informing where people travel, at what time, using what mode.

“It helps keep us stay safe by directing signalling systems to manage traffic flows, and aids in the planning of maintenance. It drives our positioning systems (GPS, and in the future autonomous vehicles) as it is the information that is passed from sensors to dashboards telling drivers something is getting close,” Ms Hutchinson said.

The two primary technologies that underpin the wide range of spatial and data analytics activities in the infrastructure sector are Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing, which are used to gain information about a range of physical and urban environments, manage the location and condition of assets, and validate planning designs.

The ability to monitor the status of assets remotely and continuously, ensures better infrastructure management and improved decision-making.

“Knowing what’s happening where reduces waste from errors and duplication like digging up the same stretch of road three times in a week, and opens up new opportunities, like autonomous vehicles,” Ms Hutchinson said.

“For example, Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail upgrades have required all the existing utilities and associated structures to be mapped, so they could be protected from any vibration caused by the rail, or completely relocated outside the zone of influence.”

Investing in innovation

Ms Hutchinson sees innovation as one of the key trends for the spatial sector in 2018.

She says machine learning, cloud computing, improved sensors and positioning technology are all changing the game for what we can measure cost-effectively, and quickly.

“This means spatial information is fast becoming an everyday tool for all businesses,” Ms Hutchinson said.

“The trend toward lean is highlighting opportunities to reduce duplicity and redundancy, improve consistency of information and commonality of business rules, and break down silos.”

The annual SIBA Asia-Pacific Spatial Excellence Awards offers an insight into the leading projects and most exciting developments in the spatial sector. Regional award winners have already been announced for 2018, with the results of the national awards released in April.

The winner of the South Australian Technical Excellence Award, the North Terrace Adelaide Tram Extension Survey, involved surveying all road surface features and infrastructure, plus the location of all underground services including old tram sleepers, along 2300m of busy, multi-lane inner city roadway from King William Street East to East Terrace.

The tight timeline and high visibility of this project, combined with working around heavy traffic and public transport movements, night work requirements and major events in the Adelaide community, presented significant challenges but new technologies like 3D Terrestrial Laser Scanning, cloud computing and BIM allowed the work to be completed within these constraints.

While the winner of the Queensland Spatial Enablement Award, Cogha, in partnership with the City of Ipswich, is developing a 5D data model as part of its Smart City Program, which aims to further integrate local council, state and federal government data and provide a tool for visual collaboration.

Starting with a three-dimensional digital model of above and below ground city infrastructure, dimensions of data and time are overlaid to produce the 5D data model, continuing the Smart City Program principles of open and interoperable platforms.

Advancements in spatial technology are happening at a rapid rate and new technologies that deliver transparent and integrated access to information are emerging all the time.

“It’s clear that the growing interest in space will deliver a range of new capabilities. Spatial data is one of the big downstream beneficiaries of space activity — we rely on the data beamed back to Earth from satellites and other sensors,” Ms Hutchinson said.

“Integrated project delivery is a concept gaining considerable traction in the infrastructure industry — it’s about sharing the information as a single point of truth from design and construction to project delivery.

Deanna Hutchinson, CEO of Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA).

“Augmented reality is another newish technology that’s beginning to prove some strong use cases; visualising the built environment before its built, space perception, community consultation, visualising under the ground — where are the pipes?”

A growing industry

With the value of spatial information already being realised within the infrastructure industry, Ms Hutchinson said she expects spatial analysis to only become more complex as more spatial questions are asked and more tools become available to help answer them.

“We are moving toward a digital built environment, and so we will have The Matrix in many ways. We will work in a parallel universe where design, planning, skilling, analysis and problem solving happens in a virtual world.

“We will utilise robots, drones and other automated technologies to assist us to perform some tasks in the real world because it will be cheaper and safer to do so,” Ms Hutchinson said.

Resolving questions around the accessibility of information and the ability to effectively collect and leverage data will be major factors in driving the growth of the spatial industry.

“I do think we need to focus on educating ourselves about how emerging technologies can help overcome some of the barriers for embedding location intelligence in business operations, as it really is a key enabler for digital transformation. Knowing what happens where unlocks an extraordinary level of insight,” Ms Hutchinson said.

“Blockchain is an exciting development that answers some of those access and control questions, and it will drive the speed and shape of this transformation.”

SIBA advocates for government data to be available in machine readable formats to support spatial analysis but recognises the need for contractual protections that encourage growth in spatial data use.

There are several projects in the works exploring how more data can be “unlocked” while upholding appropriate national security and economic controls.

Looking ahead to the future, Ms Hutchinson said all industries will need to get good at compiling multiple layers of information and responding in real time.

“Will we wear funny looking glasses or adopt fake persona avatars to interact with colleagues and customers? Who knows. But we will have more information at our disposal than ever before, and we will need to be skilled at evaluating its accuracy and usefulness.” 

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