Technology changes the way we live.
Eva kong crop
The Octopus card – a plastic smartcard which can hold pay-as-you-go credit – was introduced in Hong Kong in 1997 and has substantially replaced the use of cash for low value transactions.
Like London’s Oyster Card, Octopus is used to pay for transport fares but in Hong Kong, it is also a widely accepted form of payment in shops and parking facilities.
China has moved even further towards a cashless society with mobile phones replacing cash and credit cards. Even beggars are accepting street donations via QR code.
Just as technology has altered consumers’ lives, it is also increasingly transforming infrastructure. The next generation of assets can inform the engineer of their condition and status and when they need to be repaired or replaced. Already, some of our critical infrastructure – like Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma Bridge – have built-in smart sensors and fibre optics to monitor structural performance.
Smart assets can also optimise energy use and reduce operation and maintenance costs. Many cities have implemented smart street lighting systems. Sensors can dim and switch off lights automatically or enable remote control from a central operations room. The performance of each light across a city can also be monitored remotely without the need for manual inspection. Based on the performance data, an operator can then predict the residual life of lighting and carry out proactive maintenance.
Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3-D printing are other examples of technology which are changing how assets are planned, constructed, operated and maintained.
Big data is the other key component driving smart assets. The deployment of smart motorway technology can actively manage traffic flows and optimise the motorway network.
With data sharing between different modes of transport, it is possible to further coordinate and optimise routes and schedules and make public transportation more efficient. Ultimately, with the development of driverless vehicles and the use of big data, public transport systems may be drastically transformed into a point-to-point service for the individual.
Project owners have a critical role in integrating different expertise and investigating how to incorporate technology to achieve the best asset functionality from the start of project planning.
Funders need to understand the opportunities and risks technology brings. Engineers need to proactively incorporate technology into design and construction. Integrating technology –which normally has a short design life and rapid advancement – into infrastructure assets with a design life of 50 to 100 years presents a challenge to project participants. As a profession, we need to be flexible and work collaboratively with others to best shape smart infrastructure to meet our society’s needs.
● Eva Kong is the ICE’s Hong Kong regional director