Defining Intelligent Infrastructure
The technology triad that makes intelligent infrastructure possible is sensors, network connectivity and software to monitor and analyze complex networks. The sensor component collects operational detail over time as well as providing real-time inputs on current conditions. The network connectivity ensures the flow of information between systems, other sensors, and practitioners. The software component provides oversight and analysis, integrating insight from various systems and personnel. The approach integrates the management of multiple processes for more collaborative and multidisciplinary workflows. Intelligence is constantly improving from such a system of systems through incremental process improvements that are informed through constant monitoring and analysis.
The idea of intelligent infrastructure has been around for a long time in one form or another. Early forays into real-time monitoring of systems include industrial control systems such as SCADA. This newer concept of intelligent infrastructure advances that vision through technology innovation to enable us to go beyond simply monitoring. Instead of the more passive approach where alarms signal when inputs exceed accepted norms, intelligent infrastructure is a more holistic approach that provides a greater understanding of the interconnectivity of systems and the implications of events through a detailed digital model.
Supporting Trends in GIS
The move toward intelligent infrastructure comes with a need for transformation on how software tools model our world, how they handle increasing quantities of data input, and how they analyze and help predict performance of our infrastructure in response to our changing world.
In the realm of mapping and modeling there is historic division between those that use computer-aided design (CAD) software and those that use geographic information systems (GIS), but that division will need to come down in order to realize the full benefits of intelligent infrastructure. Increasingly, each of these tool sets are addressing this gap, by expanding their own functionality and enabling interoperability between the different data and models.
The advent of building information modeling (BIM) provides a way to capture and catalog all of the components of a building in a way that can yield different reports regarding the cost and performance of a building. BIM brings intelligent modeling to the CAD world, with a greater understanding of building, facility, and network performance. Combining these detailed models with the larger modeled geography within GIS provides context for this infrastructure within the natural world.
There is growing talk of the concept of GeoDesign, where tools to sketch and plan are informed by the spatial intelligence that are contained in the GIS. This ability to design within GIS will be tuned to specific planning processes. GeoDesign hopes to achieve a deep understanding of place that allows us to make optimal land use plans, and to build communities and systems that are well tuned to their environments.
In order to design and visualize this concept of intelligent models of infrastructure and the landscape, we’ll be required to move beyond 2D abstractions of our world toward full 3D representations. Creating our models in three dimensions provides a better means to understand our surroundings, to add real-time simulation to show the inner-workings of our built environment, and to communicate plans on changes to our world. The three-dimensional view provides a more accessible and inclusive model, and with an open and interchangeable 3D model, we can effectively break down the barriers between different design tools and systems.
The next step beyond the intelligent model is the ability to simulate change over time within the model. This capability is essential to the realization of intelligent infrastructure, because without the captured performance of our infrastructure we can’t build or exploit intelligence about our built world beyond the day that it was created.