Future World Vision: How civil engineers can meet the challenges of tomorrow

 “Never before has the future looked so exciting.” That’s how the ASCE introduces “Future World Vision,” an ambitious, hopeful and deep examination of future trends and how civil engineers can be better equipped to meet the unprecedented challenges of tomorrow, including climate change and rapid population growth.

Photo credit: ASCE

Future World Vision “reimagines” infrastructure,  looking at plausible future scenarios for our world, at a much larger scale than the typical focus of engineers. The project identifies common implications among these scenarios with the goal of achieving a “safer, healthier and more sustainable world” to  help civil engineers and the larger industry “make decisions today that will lead to better outcomes tomorrow.” Scenario timeframes look out 10, 25 and 50 years from today to better understand the implications over time.

From an original list of 25-30 important sociopolitical, economic, environmental, and technological macrotrends (among them cybersecurity, aging infrastructure, rising populism, internet breakdown,human augmentation and more), these  six macrotrends were identified as key drivers of change for the built environment and the role of civil engineers:

  • Alternative Energy (more widespread deployment)
  • Autonomous Vehicles (requiring less space, freeing up parcels for development)
  • Climate Change (the effects of global warming, rising seas and extreme weather)
  • Smart Cities (reshaping where we live through smart city integrated systems and single vertical use)
  • High-Tech Construction / Advanced Materials (innovations that dramatically alter the construction process and building timeline)
  • Policy & Funding (the importance of clear, equitable policy goals and private-sector collaboration in reaching high quality of life standards)

Over the next few months, we’ll be taking a closer look at each macrotrend, focusing more in-depth on each.

The report identified some high-level key themes emerging regarding what civil engineers do now and what they’ll be doing in the future:

Understanding how these macrotrends could impact the world led to the development of four divergent, plausible outcomes, becoming the “Future Scenarios.” The scenarios are meant to be hypothetical, but reasonable, models of how society will interact with cities and infrastructure in the future. We’ll be taking a look at these scenarios in later blogs as well:

  • Resilient Cities (governments eventually take action to combat climate change)
  • Progressive Megacities (mass urbanization drives government direct action)
  • Dispersed Settlements (degradation in quality of urban life leads to immigration to new, isolated settlements)
  • Unequal Enclaves (deteriorating urban conditions drive an exodus from traditional cities, which then struggle to deliver services to remaining residents
Photo credit: ASCE

This project facilitates crucial dialog between civil engineers and gives us an opportunity to channel our energies creatively and practically into a bright future.

In the next blog, we’ll be taking a deeper look at one of the six trends identified in the report as a key driver of change for civil engineers and the environment.

How civil engineers can play a key role in a Green New Deal

Photo credit: Orlando Sentinel

With recent discussion of a “Green New Deal” in congress, our country’s infrastructure becomes open to a revolutionary shift. Our infrastructure, having been engineered from the bottom up, now must be redesigned with consciousness to nurture and sustain life in the 21st Century. In realizing this shift, the Civil and Structural Engineering profession has the opportunity to be on the cutting-edge of industry.

This proposed legislation crafted by progressive thinkers in Congress, was recently put up for a vote in the Senate by Republicans​, highlighting how partisan an issue global warming has become. Even President Trump called for more infrastructure spending​during his State of the Union speech, saying it was not an option but a “necessity.”

According to the United Nations’ climate science body​, we are running out of time to make necessary huge changes to limit the effect of global warming. Climate change is not only an environmental issue but an economic one as well, as its effects will have a significant impact on the U.S.’s trade and overseas operations​. The prosperity of our country depends on our ability to evolve.

Crucial to the Green New Deal is a call for greater investment in revolutionary planning and design of infrastructure that is focused on renewable and clean energy. From CNN​: “(The Green New Deal) declares the government should take a stronger position on everything from cutting carbon emissions to giving every American a job to working with family farmers to ​retrofitting every building in the country​.”

To meet the demands of the future, Civil engineers and planners must create a new, intelligent infrastructure. As much as the current design standards have been developed with sustainability in mind, engineers would need to retool their thinking and take more of a leadership role in enhancing the current standards for the next generation design, such as the overhauling and upgrading of the current infrastructure to be more geared to smart renewable energy, water conservation and reuse, as well as integrating it with all industrial and residential buildings to maximize energy efficiency and create a national smart grid​.

The Green New Deal reaches beyond infrastructure -- it calls for jobs (and could create 15 million in five years), universal basic income and health care programs are among its guarantees. Additionally, thinkers, scientists and engineers, would need to develop new revolutionary systems and methods that would meet these goals as well as advance comfort, public health and economy.

The Green New Deal would accelerate a trend that’s already taking place, the transition to a green economy as states around the country are already implementing similar legislation​. Civil engineers have a higher standard to strive for as their role becomes of increased importance in such an economy​.

Why more and more engineering firms are using drones


Drones are everywhere. Look up when you’re walking in a park, or sitting on a beach, and you might catch one buzzing about. Commercially-available drones can fly up to 100 miles per hour. And ready or not, they’re going to be delivering packages to your doorstep very soon. They already can deliver pizza. This technology can be traced back to 1907 when the first quadcopter was created by inventor brothers Jacques and Louis Bréguet. However, it couldn’t be steered, only lifted two feet off the ground and needed to be steadied by four people. We’ve come a long way. Commercial drones hit the market in 2006 but at first very few permits were requested. One likely reason is that drone rules from the FAA were ambiguous and drone operation was expensive: companies were required to hire a licensed pilot to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle. New guidelines for small commercial drones went into effect in 2016, and there are now more than one million drones registered with the FAA, including 122,000 for commercial use. Some newer commercial drones are no longer limited to following a GPS signal and can also now track the movement of people, animals, objects while avoiding obstacles. In the last five years, more and more engineering companies are using drone technology to be more efficient and accurate, collect better data faster, and save money. https://youtu.be/SVWxQyNFmUU Some say construction is slow to adapt to technology. In fact, most construction and engineering firms wait for competitors to adopt new technology before they do. But the rate of new technologies being developed is increasing rapidly and is changing everything. Construction companies are using drones for tasks including 3D mapping and job site rendering, monitoring job site progress and tracking materials, and streamlining inspections and keeping sites safe. For civil and structural engineering, in addition to 3D mapping, drones are a useful tool for documenting a project site before, during and after construction. Structural engineers can use drones to inspect structures such as building faces that are not accessible. Drones have been embraced by companies ranging from startups to the giants, and some would say they are now essential to construction. The use of drones isn’t limited to just construction sites -- they’re also used for scanning pipelines to improve operations and reduce safety risks; making surveying safer and more accurate; or even to take aerial photos of a prospective job site before a bid.    While learning to use a drone is simple, the technology isn’t for every company. Along with the associated cost and training, drone mapping can also be technically difficult. In the coming year, drone use for the construction industry is expected to grow. At the same time, privacy concerns about drones are growing. The future of drones is very much up in the air, as countries around the world come together to figure out how this technology should be regulated. Has your company started using drone technology? Let us know what you are using drones for and any benefits and/or challenges.  

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