Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Back to the Future Day

In the movie, Back to the Future II, Marty McFly time travels from 1985 to see his future self on Oct. 21, 2015.  While we don't all have flying cars or hoverboards, there are many ways that technology has impacted transportation a great deal since 1985.  Computers have made the biggest difference in both improving automobile safety and in the overall design and construction of infrastructure.

While driverless cars and connected vehicles are the headliners, there's a number of smaller innovations that are impacting transportation today, which are lesser known.

Electronic deliverable plans to contractors:  Traditionally, engineers develop plans digitally for transportation projects.  These digital plans are then printed on paper for contractors to take to the construction site.  The transfer from digital to paper often lack some of the necessary detail leaving the contractors with many questions about what the designer had in mind.  Now files can be transferred electronically and viewed in its original form on the construction site eliminating a lot of confusion. The Oregon Department of Transportation estimates that it saves an average of six percent in construction cost and 40 percent in time on each project by utilizing this new technology.

Crowd-sourced traffic data:  Whether it's checking Yelp for restaurant reviews or Trip Advisor to see how others rated a hotel, most people have made a decision about where to eat or sleep based on advice from strangers.  But you may not be aware that you can use crowd-sourced data to avoid a traffic jam or to find a quiet spot in your city.  Apps like Waze, Stereopublic, BlaBlaCar to name a few rely on user reports to improve the navigation or carpooling opportunities for other users.

Drones monitor progress on construction sites: Some construction companies are utilizing drones to fly over construction projects to gather video footage. That footage is then converted into a three-dimensional picture of the site, which is fed into software that compares it to computerized architectural plans as well as a the construction work plan showing when each element should be finished. The software can show managers how the project is progressing, and can automatically highlight parts that may be falling behind schedule.  This increases productivity and efficiency of projects.

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