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Bryn Fosburgh: Adopting a Physical-to-Digital Continuum

Adapted from Exploring WGIC's Impact: Interview with President Bryn Fosburgh, Senior Vice President, Trimble

Surveyors are responding to the evolving needs and expectations of their customers and adapting to rapidly changing technology that supports a seamless transfer of information along a physical-to-digital continuum. The move toward integrated workflows and paperless processes is being driven by current industry challenges, such as a shortage of skilled labor, that require an innovative approach for the industry to continue to prosper and grow.

Technology developments that enhance productivity and efficiency are crucial for offsetting potential staffing issues. According to data shared through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs processed 30% fewer land surveyor applications and 40% fewer license renewals from 2015 to 2022. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts about 7,800 openings for surveying and mapping technicians are projected each year, on average, between 2022–2032.

By focusing on full connectivity and visibility for all stakeholders, workflows are expedited through multi-team collaboration and new software and integrated hardware solutions to keep projects moving. In addition, an improved physical-to-digital workflow addresses the need for sustainability and protects the environment by reducing waste and rework.   

Data Integration from Field to Office

Three factors are driving progress towards maximum efficiency and productivity—computing power, broadband speed, and data collection. Developments in these areas are propelling the industry forward by eliminating disconnected workflows and data silos and enabling a two-way transfer of comprehensive data between field and office and all stakeholders.

Computing power has grown exponentially in the last few decades, and the edge and the cloud are now capable of handling the vast amount of information and the complex calculations required to optimize construction, agriculture, geospatial, and transportation workflows. 

Bandwidth is growing by 50% per year, in conjunction with increased broadband speed that enables transferring data from the field to the office, the physical to the digital, and machine to machine to ensure efficient processes, visibility, and transparency. 

Advanced tools for data collection deliver significant improvements in data quality and accuracy. Expanded access to this information supports a wider range of applications, such as utilizing AI technology to deliver predictive and prescriptive insights, communicate with stakeholders, and guide machines in the field. When there are more users, more value is derived from the data.

The shift from a set of isolated workflows and point solutions to an integrated and automated workflow relies on a unified ecosystem that aggregates the data from the field and the office. To provide a comprehensive dataset, the common data environment combines everything from the modeling solution and on-site sensors to finance records and progress reports. 

Connect the Where, Why and What

The unified ecosystem brings together three aspects of a project that are crucial for sustainable project management and efficient collaboration between team members. The “where” is the location aspect provided by positioning and sensing activities that gather geospatial information and measurements. The “what” defines the problem with specific models like construction or land information models. The “why” combines the data and models to perform analytics and optimization activities and provide predictive and prescriptive insights to the stakeholders. The result is a merging of the physical and digital in one common data environment.

Over time, the physical information becomes an aggregated collection of data from thousands of construction projects, data collected by hundreds of thousands of sensors and other types of equipment around the globe that describe the state of the environment—where things are, why they are there, and what they are doing.

This valuable spatial and temporal data is streamed to the digital world through a process of perception, comprehension, and insights that drive decisions and actions back to the field. This can be a human-in-the-loop process or a fully automated workflow. Ideally, the ecosystem operates primarily automated processes that require little manual intervention, the workflows are integrated, and the output is accessible to all the right people.

Improved Analytics with Unified Ecosystem

The unified digital ecosystem supports the use of deep learning technology and predictive analytics for a broad range of applications. The ability of AI to process large amounts of data, recognize patterns, make predictions, and identify trends and risks goes far beyond human capabilities. 

Predictive AI helps maintain infrastructure and improve public safety with bridge deformation monitoring, crack and pothole detection, tunnel monitoring, and semantic segmentation. Other applications predict changes in the landscape, such as erosion patterns and vegetation growth, or urban development to assist with planning.

Generative AI conducts data augmentation by filling in gaps based on patterns in the surrounding data, detecting anomalies in geospatial data, identifying errors in survey data, and automatically classifying different types of landforms or land uses based on aerial or satellite imagery. 

It’s Happening Now

By building on top of the three enablers—computing power, broadband speed, and data—an end-to-end workflow that brings together the physical and the digital is feasible right now. 

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration now requires a 3D model-based design and all construction to be managed in one collaboration platform, impacting the 2022 Randselva bridge project outside of Oslo.

Randselva is now the longest bridge ever built without two-dimensional drawings. 
Every object in the 3D model is connected to underlying data; for example, specifications for all 250,000 individual pieces of reinforcement bars are accessible in the dataset. The 100% digital project was enabled by Trimble constructible software, including Trimble® Tekla®, Trimble Connect® and Trimble SiteVision™. 

Teams in five countries collaborated on one model to design and construct the Randselva bridge. With a common data environment approach, the data-driven, automated and connected workflow brought together users, project information, models, documents, devices, machines and sensors, and real-time data from the field.

Benefits Now and in the Future

Surveyors are leveraging technological improvements in computing power, broadband speed and data collection to create a physical-to-digital continuum that delivers benefits on current and future projects. Integrated workflows expedite the transfer of information between field and office and between stakeholders, enabling more efficient collaboration and higher rates of productivity. The “where, why and what” are accessible in a common data environment to support decision making and advanced analytics.  

Year after year, project after project, this physical-to-digital-to-physical loop provides situational intelligence and improves comprehension and insight to get the work done faster, better, and more sustainably.