Over the last 20 years, more than one trillion dollars have been spent building our information infrastructure– and what a great outcome for the investment. It changed everything in our lives and in the economy. The opportunities over the next 20 years, however, will be massive with the focus on physical infrastructure. We will likely have to spend multi- trillion dollars to update our infrastructure globally.
Our physical infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with our digital one. The basic technology to merge our digital and physical lives is there, but our infrastructure needs some serious updating to handle this unification. Once done, our buildings will be stronger and smarter, our roads capable of handling autonomous cars and our cities prepared for natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey.
Fortunately there’s a growing number of startups and entrepreneurs focused on technologies that will integrate human activites with our physical infrastructure—a category I like to refer to as BuildTech. Entrepreneurs interested in cracking into this industry will need to specialize in one of three areas: digital technologies, materials technologies or AI and robotics.
I recently spent time with some of the key technologists at WSP Global, a consulting firm that specializes in infrastructure. They are studying how digital technologies can change the way buildings are designed, constructed and engineered. In their view, it’s all about “smart”—harnessing digital technologies to make everything from our roads and buildings to entire cities intelligent and connected to each other.
The implications of “smart” are incredible. For example, your condo or apartment may detect you returning home and not only turn on your lights, but also have coffee or a martini waiting for you. At work you may be able to schedule a meeting through your phone and a system will reserve a conference room, prepare technology requirements for any presentations and order lunch for you and your guests. All this will be done while reducing energy cost, increasing safety and providing new sources of revenue.
Dan Butler, senior director of Telecom & Technology for WSP, predicts future digital technologies won’t just provide value post-construction, they will play an increasing role in the entire lifecycle of a building. Starting in the design phase, building information modeling (BIM) will integrate CAD systems, engineering and construction. For example, bar coded materials will match up to construction plans making it easier to track, manage inventory and ensure all materials are ready at the building site each day. The cost-saving potential is huge.
Dr. Babak Samareh, from the University of Toronto’s Center for Advanced Coating Technologies (CACT), is working on a new simulation technology that will allow architects to understand how their structures could withstand a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or flood, as they are designing them. Currently most designs go to a third party to be “tested.” The ability to obtain near realtime results will save a lot of money and time. One day this technology may even be available to the general public, allowing us to simulate any disaster and plan for it based on our current location.