Technology is going to significantly shape the way our infrastructure looks and works in the future. The increasing development and integration of technology will not only enhance the productivity of our infrastructure, but will also significantly shape its nature.
For example, developments in biotechnology mean that health provision is now focused more on prevention. You can get wearables that detect the onset of dementia; apps to detect changes in weight and encourage healthier lifestyles. The result is that people are likely to live longer, which will have an impact on the type of infrastructure we need and how we use it.
Another crucial technological development is efficient energy storage, which will completely change the supply and demand dynamic and result in a more complex and dynamic smart energy network. At the same time, demand for electricity will keep increasing. Already the technology we have in our homes and workplaces demands more electricity, and this will increase even further with more electric vehicles.
More car models
In 2010 you could choose from four models of electric car; in 2020 there will be 40. That’s going to change the whole demand for electricity, as well as affecting the type of road infrastructure we need. But an even bigger impact on road infrastructure will be the introduction of driverless car technology, which will see autonomous driving, platooning of heavy vehicles and – ultimately – mobility as a service.
The use of roads is already changing thanks to virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, which enable us to share information virtually rather than meeting in person. And we already have got used to buying goods online rather than going to shops.
The next step will be the development of 3D printing technologies that mean we might not need to buy an item from a shop at all – just download it and print it at home.
Retailers have been at the forefront of drone technology, using it as an alternative way to make deliveries. The next step is drones that are capable of transporting people. Dubai plans to introduce drone taxis later this year, and prototype flying cars have already been unveiled. If this technology becomes mainstream, we should be preparing for more congested airways.
As an industry, it is our job to help our clients develop appropriate infrastructure solutions to meet these changing needs. Transport infrastructure must be enabled for high speed automation and intelligent networks; energy supply will move from a simple centralised model to complex decentralised networks; we should be developing an airborne environment for logistics and communications.
We should all be willing to invest in research and development and work more closely with our clients to understand their needs and to explore the technologies that will enable us to develop the infrastructure that will best meet the UK’s national needs in the long term.
● Alex Vaughan is the managing director of Costain’s natural resources division.
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