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Pipelines Matter

5/8/2017 4:00:00 AM

Why smart cities won't be a reality without underground asset management.

After recent incidents across the country, we are all well aware that the condition of our nation’s infrastructure is beginning to outlive its intended design use. Combine this need with ever-improving technology and collaboration tools, and what seems to be a liability quickly becomes an opportunity.

Understandably, roads, bridges, tunnels, and buildings (i.e., everything we can see!) all receive the most attention and therefore are allotted the highest repair and redevelopment budgets. With today being the start of National Smart Cities Week, all eyes are on infrastructure, technology, and the marriage of the two. Not far off are the days when your daily commute will consist of a back-seat ride in a self-driving car while doing some online shopping, and the cheesy screen-print t-shirt you ordered on the way into work will arrive via Amazon drone before you get back home. Hell, Elon Musk is building his own high-speed tunnel, Richard Branson is selling astronomical vacations (both literally and fiscally), and Brian Krzanich’s company provided a high-tech American Flag backdrop for Lady Gaga’s acrobatic halftime show. One CEO however, is focused on the foundation of it all. Mark Smith wants to help make our underground infrastructure safe, smart, and sustainable.

***NOTE: Yes, I just placed Mr. Smith in the same league as SpaceX, Virgin, and Intel; partially because I love my job but mainly because he is the wise one who wants to focus on what is overlooked by everyone else.


Whether it be subterranean or extraterrestrial, the success and efficiency of any project depends on a foundation of quality data acquisition. In the era of big data it is no longer acceptable to simply guess the geospatial location of our assets. If we continue with our M.O. of ignoring what lies beneath our feet until it poses a threat, we will never get out from behind the eight ball, let alone achieve the goal of building smart and sustainable cities. Locating itself, however, is also not enough. Data without ease of use and simple accessibility by those who need it most is wasted. Without wanting to sound like a doomsday-profit, I ask you to think about the impact that a gas line explosion could have if it happened in the middle of your city rather than a remote rural area. What if we had the power to stop these tragedies before they occurred? What if construction crews and first responders had a 3D visualization that would help avoid or quickly address any incidents? What if I told you that the technology currently exists and that even I, a creative business guy with the GIS intelligence of a chimp, can use it? Kind of changes things, right?

The political, social, and financial climates are ripe to map and rebuild our existing underground infrastructure. With a small high-return investment (compared to repair costs), we can figure out where we stand both literally and figuratively as well as develop a proactive plan of action for our country’s infrastructure redevelopment.

Simply, it is high-time that we pay some attention to what lies beneath the ground that we stand, work, play, and build our entire lives on.

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