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A few years’ back when I was applying for the title of Chartered Engineer, one of the essay topics stood out to me in particular interest. ‘Infrastructure in ten years’ time. How will you prepare?’.

Inevitably at the time with the Brexit vote having just been announced, my initial focus was on it and the immediate potential implications it could have on the Irish Economy (…immediate may have been a stretch in hindsight!).

In addition, I also began trawling through the internet in search of the latest ‘disruptive technologies’ being discussed in Engineering Journals, Cheddar and on other forums that were set to change the world. I was drawn by the potential of Elon Musk’s self-driving Tesla’s taking over the roads of San Francisco and the completion of a stretch of a solar road in Normandy and what it could mean for energy and renewables.

Looking back now, I can say I jumped the gun a bit with my Back to the Future approach in my predictions. While we do have tablets and self-tying sneakers, flying cars are still a way off just as solar motorways and being self-driven around the Ring of Kerry are.

With hindsight, taking a second go at the question now for how Infrastructure Design could change over the next 10 years I am brought back to looking at the changes that Road Engineers before me had to hurdle. While my working days have seen each and every Engineer I’ve encountered work remotely by laptop or at an office desktop with a full suite of the latest the software options, it has always been fascinating to see the hands-on approach of railway curves being taken to plan and long sections of a proposed road alignment or details are drawn to millimetre precision on the back of an A4 sheet by hand.

The advancement of technology and the development of software was a huge change that needed to be embraced over the past 30 years by Engineers, and the adoption of some of this software has become part and parcel of our daily working lives and vocabulary. I believe that it is in the choice of software that will disrupt Infrastructure Design the most over the next 10 years or so. With companies looking to stand out from the crowd and programming a staple of many secondary school educations, it will be an investment in designing or adopting cost-saving apps and programmes that may provide the edge in winning Tenders through cost savings from newer integrated software or quality benefits of delivery and follow on asset management handover.

Surveying apps linked directly to reporting templates, Use of U.A.V.s in land surveying and in solar farm and highway maintenance are examples of how simple ideas using technology available can make a massive difference in time management and delivery. BIM has been the word of choice across Building and Infrastructure projects of the last 5 years with its idea of live models. Coupled with Augmented Reality, we are approaching a time when we will be able to see infrastructure projects including all utilities, structures, road levels / build-ups and ancillary highway works before the first piece of sod has been turned on site.

It will be in our choice if and where we apply our focus and our commitment to adopting and developing technologies over the next decade. This could be the difference in surviving and thriving in a competitive industry of small margins.

I hope this time I won’t be jumping the gun so much, and while I doubt I’ll be commuting to work in 2030 in a flying DeLorean, they did get some stuff right!

For now however, it looks like it’s “Roads! Where we’re going we still need roads kid”….

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