April 8, 2015 | by Douglas Bobb

Technology is integrated into nearly every aspect of our lives – and there are no signs of it slowing down. As the world has become busier, we frequently turn to technology to simplify our daily routine and make it more efficient, multiple email accounts and handheld devices notwithstanding.

The same is true for the transportation industry. We can look back and see how technology has impacted our job over the past few decades, from handheld calculators replacing slide rules, to Computer Aided Drafting and Design replacing the Leroy sets. Today, integrated technology is poised to impact the transportation engineering and construction industry, being well on its way to becoming a mainstream feature.

While remote sensing technologies have been widely available for decades, the cost of installing the infrastructure needed for power, monitoring, and maintenance has been a roadblock (no pun intended) to wider implementation. Sensing equipment has become smaller, wireless, and even self-powered, greatly expanding their potential uses. Wireless sensors are being integrated into both new and existing bridges to better monitor stresses, deterioration and collision damage. In roadways, they are being used to monitor road conditions, traffic flow, and driver behavior. Sensors can send appropriate warning information to response teams or drivers, making our roads safer.

Technology integrated with inspectors and roadway users will play an increasingly key role in asset management, project scheduling, and even future design strategies. Handheld devices are already being used for data collection. EBA is developing a proprietary iPad application that will be provided to our inspection staff on company iPads to use for data collection, photo logs, IDRs, etc. In Baltimore County, EBA is part of a project to inventory non-ADA compliant sidewalk elements using smart-phones. This data will then be used to prioritize maintenance and reconstruction. Data sharing between public and private institutions is also becoming more common. Smartphone apps are available to log and report pothole locations in some jurisdictions, and cell phone tracking data is being used to determine and relay real-time traffic conditions to drivers via message signs, GPS or smartphones.

Technology’s impact on vehicles will be the largest evolution. While automated cars will increase traffic capacity, much will have to be adapted to achieve their full benefit. Roadways with dedicated lanes may have to be built if we want to allow high speed vehicle platooning, and upgraded design and maintenance standards may be needed for vehicles to consistently and accurately identify lane lines, merge lanes, etc. Of course, the newest vehicles will also act as data collection tools, increasing our knowledge and understanding of the impacts of the changes we introduce.

Future use of technology will allow us to better monitor and collect real-time, real-world data, where “the rubber meets the road,” refine models and theories, and apply the lessons learned making future design, maintenance and construction more efficient. Welcome to the future, friends.