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BIM for infrastructure is essential for city planning

In conversation with Paul A McRoberts, Vice President – Infrastructure Modelling and Platform Product Group, Autodesk, Geospatial World’s Executive Editor, Bhanu Rekha, understands why an agnostic approach to data is healthy for the industry…

Q. What according to you are the technology trends in the infrastructure space?

It’s the access to information that is held in silos. The files, formats and setups, have all been available in spaces such as GIS, BIM, CAD, aerial imagery, LiDAR and so on. They have all been disparately available, but the aggregation of information together was not possible. Now, newer ways of collecting and aggregating information are coming up, and these are a lot cheaper too. Technologies are blending together – in GIS, BIM and CAD environment – to utilise the already available information.

Q. How important do you think BIM is for the entire infrastructure life cycle?

The building space is evolving and BIM for infrastructure is catching up. BIM for infrastructure started doing the rounds at Autodesk three or four years ago. BIM, in the context of infrastructure design, is about an aggregate of fetching the information and understanding its context in the real world scenario. By aggregating all the information, we can generate a 3D view of what an entire city might look like – each and every aspect of the city is noted fundamentally, and the existing information is aggregated further. Through a BIM process, and today’s BIM cloud, desktop and mobile solutions, you can actually make better decisions early on about what the future might look like and how we can enhance it in a constructive way. The BIM environment allows you to rapidly prototype options for future and run analytics against those options to see if they actually are viable and make any sense. And equally important, it enables you to visually communicate design intent to technical and non-technical project stakeholders.

Q. Could you please cite an example?

Let’s talk about the Carbon Disclosure Project, wherein 40 cities around the world got together to measure carbon footprints. In a span of few years, about 280 countries joined in. To understand what carbon disclosure is, and to find ways to reduce it, you ought to start using the information and make sustainable decisions. There is a need to identify where a city is going, how it is doing currently – in terms of its dynamics – and what is its vision for the future. We check with the city authorities about their mission and vision about the future of their respective cities and explain to them what GIS is and how it can contribute to the overall well-being of the infrastructure space.

Q. How do you think public perception of infrastructure has evolved over the years?

People are socially active and social media is impacting all aspects of modern life, including the civil infrastructure world. When a project is taking shape initially, there is a strong design for better systems, better utilisation of limited resources and better liveability. When it comes to public infrastructure, most people had no way to participate in design decisions, but with social media, all that has changed, giving even the general public an outlook to share opinions via social media. Today, forward-thinking government and civil infrastructure professionals are offering their project stakeholders such things as drone-based fly overs, animations, photo realistic 3D images, you name it. Users can go to websites, click a picture and tweet it for others to see. Since the industry involves spending of a lot of money, it becomes instrumental for the public to participate and see where their money, that they pay as taxes, is going.

Q. There is always a need for solutions as far as efficiency of systems is concerned. How is Autodesk gearing up to provide solutions, especially in the urban framework of city planning?

While developing the latest technology, we created a really strong Application Programme Interface (API) for being able to connect. Definitely, there is a lot of information out there and we, of course, don’t own it. Our objective is to re-represent the data. Bringing in the CAD, BIM, GIS, federated and non-federated data together in context of the real world scenario gives us an advantage to explain it to people who are not necessarily from this segment of the world.

Q. To assimilate the data and re-represent it within a BIM workflow, how is it done?

As far as the big information (or big data) piece is concerned, we try remaining as agnostic as possible, both in what we aggregate and what we create. We don’t necessarily have to own the data; we only need to make it possible for our users to be able to re-represent data they collect from public records or capture in the field. We are helping to move away from a ‘data silo’ environment to a data aggregation translation approach for being able to re-represent the information quickly, and use that information to expedite the decisions. I strongly believe that the agnostic approach to data is healthy for the industry.

Q. Do you think it is absolutely important for BIM and GIS to come together and synergise the data? How is the trend catching up to use both BIM and GIS capabilities together?

We are putting it in under the whole BIM for Infrastructure concept. If it is GIS information, we represent it, and if it is an architectural building coming in, and we have the information, we re-represent that as well. In both cases, it’s about information, and what we are doing is breaking down the barriers between them.

Q. But is such trend not opening up in most emerging markets?

In the future of the smart city scenario, having access to data is essential since it leads to generating a model and do creative things. All data is created equal. Most countries wouldn’t put sensitive data on their websites, but there is still a lot of data that they do. For example, through our Model Builder solution via Autodesk InfraWorks 360, we can pick a location anywhere in the world and generate a pretty decent representation of what exists there today, just from the GIS information that is available through the Web. Then additional information can be layered in to improve accuracy. Talking about the emerging markets, China has really good building and GIS information. India, however, has the ability to scan – through LiDAR or a UAV, etc. The processing cost and manageability of it is cost-effective.

Q. How do you see BIM being used effectively in the operations and the maintenance of the large infrastructure, especially in utility networks?

Utilities and the public go hand in hand. In an emergency situation, or when a natural disaster strikes, public support becomes apparent. In such a situation, people can snap pictures of the location and tie it to a model based on location and then enter the information. They are not relying on hand notes being put in around the particular GIS object. Instead, they can capture information at the location with mobile devices and submit directly to the model. This way, I can have the information directly fed in to my BIM infrastructure model and send it out or have people on the field look at the heat map and understand where the problems are and go directly to access that information.

Q. What is the roadmap of Autodesk to address the massive business opportunity available?

I believe infrastructure improves GDP and GDP improves funding. Increased funding automatically leads to improved infrastructure. So, the best thing we can do is to actually help improve the economy to improve the infrastructure. Take China for instance — their GDP growth has less to do with export and more to do with fetching raw material from the rural environment and bringing it to the cities, manufacturing the complete product and trading it off to some other country. If you look at their transportation plans, the amount of roads and rail and everything else, you feel the growth of the country. Getting into the macro and micro dynamics of the economy is the key.