Smart infrastructure could result in geotechnical assets that automatically detect condition, identify defects and undertake self-repair in the future.
“Self-healing concrete and self-healing asphalt are already being trialled but how could these technologies be adapted to the geotechnical environment,” asked Jacobs technical director of ground engineering Christina Jackson at GE’s Transport Geotechnics conference yesterday in London.
Jackson made the comments during her keynote lecture looking at the challenges and opportunities in future transport projects, which demonstrated a growing pipeline of work through to at least 2020.
“In the future we could be fitting sensors to geotechnical assets during construction and installing electro osmosis dewatering and chemical conditioning systems to allow the structures to be adapted during their lifetime to cope with changing conditions,” she said.
As well as considering the changes in geotechnical construction, Jackson also discussed the impact that changing modes of transport might have on the ground engineering sector. “The advent of autonomous vehicles and driverless cars will not solve the congestion issues we currently have – they will drive demand for underground space,” she said. “If this is the case, then we need a strategy to plan use of underground space and move from our current ‘first come, first served’ approach to planning.”
Jackson added that the autonomous revolution could also aide the ground investigation sector. “We are seeing robotic drilling undertaken on the surface of Mars, so these concepts could be transferred to our sector to make us more agile,” she said. “We need to revolutionise ground investigation. We are on the cusp of having technology that can deliver and analyse large amounts of data more rapidly but how can we automate these processes to allow faster decision making.”
Nonetheless, Jackson does not believe that automation and artificial intelligence will replace engineering judgement. “It may improve productivity but it does not remove the need for skilled engineers,” she said.