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The Internet of the Built Environment

ASCE's image for the Internet of the Built Environment

The Internet of the Built Environment

One of the key drivers, along with mobility, on demand services, 5G and more, of the digital transformation of society is IoT – the Internet of Things. The plan for IoT is to have a sensor on everything, from bridges to your refrigerator, that can communicate the desired information in real time. IoT is supposed to put the Smart  in Smart Cities.

I have never really liked the “things’ part of that concept. It seems like Kevin Ashton, author of the very valuable “How to Fly a Horse” and coiner of the term wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to say. No doubt he wanted it to be flexible so that IoT would stand the test of time, which it has, but I would like to suggest an update, or maybe a more specific category which I think better describes what really needs to be done.

I believe we need to monitor and/or instrument the Built Environment. Those are the “things” that as a civil engineer that I am interested in. People have already instrumented the natural environment and they are welcome to classify that as they see fit. The NSF’s NEON comes to mind.

So I would like to propose the IBE – the Internet of the Built Environment. Transportation facilities, buildings, utilities, vehicles, UAVs and more all need to be connected and integrated into a master control and monitoring system, not unlike what NEON is doing for the natural environment.

Now if you have been working in the utility industry you are probably saying that you have been involved with this type of instrumentation for decades. It is referred to as SCADA – supervisory control and data acquisition. In the early days it was done using mini-computers. It’s not a new concept in principle, but it is in the scope of instrumenting a Smart City and managing the BIG geospatial data that would be needed to turn this IBE data into actionable information and intelligent, sustainable decision making.

If we are going to make our cities more resilient and maintain, let alone improve, their quality of life in the U.S. and around the world, tremendous change is going to have to take place.

The ASCE has been working on this critically important issue with a project they call “Future World Vision.” Vision and leadership, two concepts that are sorely lacking in Washington, DC where Americans need them the most are certainly needed if we are going to change the world. If you are interested in the future, have a look when time permits.

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