The Rise of Next-Generation Geospatial Platforms

Armed with a robust geospatial platform, the AEC industry can devise feasible, and affordable solutions to address complex problems.

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By Meenal Dhande
By Meenal Dhande

Senior Assistant Editor | Defence & Intelligence

The Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry, which is often viewed as a slow adopter of data and digitalization, has been quick to embrace digital technologies in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. Along with several cutting-edge technologies, the industry is increasingly using geospatial content platforms to boost productivity. “Traditionally, architects, engineers, contractors, and geospatial professionals have been seen as separate silos with non-cooperative workflows and technologies. But the truth is they are complementary and interconnected. Across the entire lifecycle of a construction asset, all stakeholders can plan better, improve decisions, and coordinate more efficiently when accurate and relevant design and documentation information, enriched with the location context, flows more seamlessly to those who need it when they need it,” says Brey Tucker, Senior Industry Manager, Project Delivery at Autodesk.

A robust geospatial content platform can help the AEC industry in capacity planning and assessment, cost-benefit analysis, planning and design of land parcels, environmental impact study, and analysis of the neighborhood impact for natural resources. “Such a platform is essential not only for our projects in infrastructure, but also in construction, to have up-to-date information about the work location in the field of newly-built or renovation,” says Menno de Jonge, Director Digital Construction, Royal BAM Group.

Next-generation geospatial platforms can map, combine and store data from various sources and process them to help devise practical solutions to city problems

Chris Tucker, Cesium Advisory Board Member, feels that the industry has long aspired to achieve a full digital geospatial content platform that captures the entire lifecycle of the built environment. “If only we could adapt our 3D design data to capture the ‘as built’ geospatial representations and evolve these over the entire lifecycle of a given building or piece of infrastructure. A geospatial content platform that could enable all stakeholders (developers, building managers, owners/tenants, public officials, community members, etc.) to continuously update such data would help us construct much smarter cities and infrastructure. The enormous efficiencies we would gain would only be outweighed by the wide range of new opportunities that this functional Digital Twin would provide.”

Next-generation platforms

Geospatial technologies have proven to be helpful in the AEC industry due to their varied benefits ranging from enhanced visualization, reduction in building waste, increased productivity, sustainable performance, building waste, increased productivity, sustainable performance, etc. However, the next-generation geospatial content platforms, majorly based on the Cloud Application Platform (CAP), would do more than that. “The next-gen geospatial platforms would be interconnected 3D platforms, which would be able to eectively integrate geospatial data from disparate sources, formats, sensors, and companies in an organized and usable form. These platforms would empower developers across industries to maximize the potential of their 3D data, both for the consumer and enterprise markets. For example, Digital Twin platforms, both LOD and Mesh Models for asset planning, design, analysis, operations, and maintenance; emergence of open formats such as CityGML, IMDF (Indoor Mapping Data Format), GeoJSON for hosted and lightweight applications; convergence of reality models, OSM (OpenStreetMap) data with AR/VR technologies to create new user experiences in the metaverse; platforms serving real-time data for connected EVs, ADAS, autonomy and green grids,” explains Bobbie H Kalra, CEO, Magnasoft.

Tucker feels that the next generation will easily aggregate information from BIM and GIS while maintaining high confidence in their coordinates. “Today, this is a tough problem as these coordinate systems are fundamentally different. We are already beginning to see many customers and organizations solving this problem in unique ways — but we are getting closer to a uniform solution that the next generation will take for granted,” he says.

The next-gen geospatial content platforms would have an engineering- led approach to application delivery transformation, enhanced user experiences, consumption of lesser system resources such as small memory footprint, and an open source-centric PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service). “We have been pushing the boundaries to redefine what is possible to advance the AEC industry by utilizing geospatial data combined with prefabrication technologies and information-rich models to substantially increase efficiencies through construction automation,” says Amr Raafat, Vice President of VDC & Technology, Windover Construction.

Platforms for digital and smart cities

Population explosion is propelling the world towards a new phase in urban evolution. From health, transportation, housing, security, education, waste management to culture and tourism, today’s urban planners are facing unique challenges. These challenges can be addressed by next-gen geospatial platforms, which can serve as the supporting pillars for many digital city applications. They can map, combine, and store data from various sources and process them to help devise practical solutions to city problems. Hence, these platforms are an essential part of any digital/smart city ecosystem, as they take data from government sources, private enterprises, and others to help provide effective solutions.

Next-generation geospatial platform for AEC industry

“The next-gen geospatial content platforms, by allowing the analysis of real-time sensor data and 3D imagery in the real-world geospatial context, can help cities become more sustainable, transparent, and efficient. These platforms would facilitate the creation of updated digital twins by easily combining earth and synthetic data, sensor feeds, and other 3D content to help smart urban development,” explains Kalra.

Role of 4IR technologies

The AEC industry, like all other sectors, has had to keep up with technological innovations introduced during various industrial revolutions. “In the construction industry, we are now talking about ‘Construction 4.0’, in which we focus particularly on the digital transformation of our sector by implementing 4IR technologies,” says Jonge. A next-generation geospatial content platform would integrate all 4IR technologies. The automated generation of 3D as-planned and as-built models would significantly reduce the time and cost required for drawings and producing models.

“The future of the built environment will demand the use of modern, smart technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine communication (M2M) to enable the kind of automation, improved communication and self-monitoring required for automated processes to analyze and diagnose issues at speed and scale without human intervention,” says Chris Tucker. However, to be effective, each of these smart devices must know their location and orientation (e.g., X, Y, Z, T, pitch, yaw, roll, and AOV) as they move through the smart city. “And to observe or to maneuver through the built environment with precision and accuracy, these smart devices will rely upon very precise and accurate 3D representations of the city and its infrastructure,” he adds.

An invisible revolution

While digital transformation in the AEC industry is quite evident, some changes, especially those concerning new and transformed business models, are invisible. To run own and customer businesses, several companies are today using next-gen geospatial platforms to add new services to their existing portfolio and build new partnerships. “We will soon see greater Cloud-to-Cloud connectivity of design and documentation information and Location Intelligence. In this context, other users can take advantage of the convergence of project and asset data. Capital asset owners, project managers, operations managers, and others will be able to visualize asset information in formats that are most relevant to them. These federated data environments would eventually enable the industry to leverage AI and ML throughout and drive even better outcomes in the future,” adds Brey Tucker.

Digital construction lifecycle

The most significant transformation has been the miniaturization, commoditization and proliferation of sensing technologies that allow the industry to capture dynamic change within the built environment. “This will provide endless fuel for the next- generation geospatial platform for smart cities, and to develop and manage smart infrastructure. A 3D data processing pipeline capable of ingesting all these different kinds of 3D data will be required to keep up with the ever-growing density of observations about our built environment — keeping citizens, developers, and decision-makers up to date,” highlights Chris Tucker.

However, in the people, process, and technology triangle, technology is the least problematic aspect. Jonge says, “The biggest issue is in the area of change management — the people side of things. We are all able to buy hardware/software from our suppliers. Digitalizing processes is getting more difficult. For delivering real change in organizations, we need to focus on the people and hire change managers to guide change in organizations.”

Armed with the next-gen geospatial platform, the AEC industry can formulate advanced, feasible, and affordable solutions to address complex problems. “What is important is how we utilize today’s geospatial content with tomorrow’s vision to make it as practical as possible for our designers, field teams, and project managers to use which executing projects,” concludes Raafat.