Why aren't virtual models of our projects part of our normal business best practices? I think the adoption of future tech is often the result of a driving force. Military funded Internet and GPS, which in turn are adapted for civilian use. Foreign imports and the collapses of the US manufacturing industry drives improvements in automobile and manufactured goods. Moore's law and consumer demand for smaller faster better personal gadgets drives personal electronics. Behind each of these drives is one common to them all: money. What is the driver for the infrastructure industry? Over the past decade several times I've thought, "Ah, here it is!" I thought the collapse of the housing market would drive BIM/VDC adoption allowing a smaller, leaner workforce to produce better designs (like in the automobile industry). It didn't. I thought requirement by the US General Services Administration (the managers of the most office square footage in the US) for all projects to "use BIM" would drive modeling adoption. It didn't. I thought the introduction of LEED-certified projects and the general effort to reduce environmental impacts would drive adoption. I hasn't. Tragically, I thought the catastrophic failure of infrastructure components and the resulting needless loss of life would finally motivate the industry to do better. Unfortunately, it has not.
I'm beginning to believe there are too many stake-holders, too many steps in the process, too many overlapping fiefdoms, and too many rules and regulations in the infrastructure industry which stand between the technology itself and the economical and profitable deployment and adoption of that tech. It's not a problem with the tech, it's the social and political environment into which the tech is trying to penetrate. These hurdles don't exist in the other sectors. Or, in industries where there are just as many steps, like pharmaceutical/biomed, the potential for profit is worth the investment and effort.
Whatever the reason for not taking advantage of the best modeling and design tools, we as an industry need to ask ourselves, "Are we doing the best we can?" If the answer is "No" then collectively we need to find the reason why.
Future tech is everywhere and examples permeate our daily lives. Long gone are the days of waiting for a holiday special to broadcast on TV, trudging to the store to buy or rent a movie, or even waiting a week for the next episode of our favorite show. Media of all types now comes to us, wherever and whenever we want it. Cars now bristle with (hidden) tech including satellite radio, auto-pairing with our phones, clash avoidance, park assist and lane alerts. Fleets of fully self-driving cars are now poised to take to the roads. Video games and CGI movie effects (and more and more coupled with virtual reality headsets) result in realistic productions limited only by the creators' imaginations. DNA editing to change gene expression (and thus biological function) with CRISPR is now as easy as cutting and pasting in a word processor. We no longer have to remember anything since a quick (voice activated) Google search will tell us whatever fact or trivia we wish to know. The ubiquity of smart phones and all they enable us to do impacts our lives in so many ways they fundamentally change human societies, including enabling the "Arab Spring" changes in the Middle East. Until very recently, these advances were science fiction descriptions of a future yet to be. And yet, here we are living in that future. So, why then, don't we work there too?
The same technology that has so dramatically changed our personal lives is certainly available for business and yet its adoption in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of our infrastructure is decades behind. Of course there are many developers and manufactures creating technologically advanced tools and many firms adopting them. But this is the exception and not the norm. Real world use of modern modeling tech such as visualization, BIM/VDC and LiDAR (and other reality capture tools) is no more commonplace than 2D CAD drawings and red pencil mark-ups. Even when modeling tech is used, it's in baby steps and often held back by the antiquated institutional structures that place the paper plan set on an unassailable pedestal. Progress-impeding examples are everywhere: Wonderful, data rich 3D models are "flattened" for review by governing agencies; precision surface models are created only to be "exploded" and "manually fixed" for lack of patience or technical skills; digital as-builts are delivered on DVD and then promptly placed in a file cabinet instead of being added to an ever-improving municipal model. Is it any wonder the manufacturing (cars), aerospace (GPS satellites) and electrical/computer (brains) engineering sectors have given us self-driving cars while the infrastructure industry struggles to prevent the roads on which they drive from crumbling?
At the end of summer, I was at a family reunion in central Illinois. As I stood chatting with relatives in my uncle's backyard, in the "middle of nowhere", my brother-in-law walked up, took a golf ball-sized speaker out of his pocket and said "Play some music." I had never seen the device before, but within 60 seconds, my phone had paired with it via Bluetooth and we were listening to a playlist of my favorite songs streaming from an Internet music service. I am an admitted technophile and I'm seldom awed by things tech-related. However, this interaction gave me pause and caused me to contemplate how much of the "future" is already here.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!