Smart Infrastructure: Reliable and Adaptive Technology

Smart Infrastructure: Reliable and Adaptive Technology

The infrastructure that provides today’s most essential services must be reliable, adaptive, efficient and resilient. In a word: smart. Aviation, Energy, Healthcare, Rail/Transit, and Water are high-consequence, critical infrastructure sectors in constant evolution.  In these five sectors, disruption – whether natural or man-made – can be catastrophic to life and our economy, and drives our critical need for robust infrastructure. As we expand, rebuild and upgrade our nation’s high-consequence infrastructure, owners and public sector agencies are considering “Smart Infrastructure” strategies that blend physical (equipment, buildings, transmission/distribution networks, power grids), digital (computers, software, networks and sensors) and even biometric identifiers into systems that can detect, understand and respond to their environment.

The World Economic Forum and its founder, Klaus Schwab, are calling the advent of technologies that fuse the biological, digital and physical worlds the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” This revolution, which in many ways extends the third wave of computing power and electronic communications, carries enormous potential if infrastructure can be made adaptable to change.  Imagine, buildings that respond to their occupants; systems that identify malfunction and act before failure; facilities that sense demand and adjust supply.  As Darwin postulated more than 100 years ago – it is not the strongest that flourish, but the most adaptable.  The ability to adapt and respond to change is the heart of smart infrastructure.

From adaptive airports that sense and respond to passenger demand, to life-saving IT-based Positive Train Control (PTC) for passenger rail, to responsive microgrids and smart substations that enable more sustainable energy production, we are living and engineering in an era of fundamental information technology change.

“Smart Infrastructure” describes a responsive, efficient and environmentally-friendly way to manage critical transportation and utilities industries. Smart infrastructure depends on crucial technological ingredients, like low-cost sensors and software for analytics and visualization, as well as computing firepower.  These significant advances in technology are affecting all modes of transportation including planes, trains and automobiles, as well as facilities and infrastructure.

Regional, commuter and freight railroads are getting more high-tech intelligence with smart Positive Train Control, digital radio systems, track sensors, and other computer-based controls.  Some of the nation’s largest railroads are using sensors on tracks, sidings and locomotives, as well as sophisticated computer models and optimization software to fine-tune the flow of traffic across their railway network, and improve safety by preventing accidents.  Burns has supported some of the first PTC installations, such as Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, Terminal Railroad Association in Saint Louis, and the Alaska Railroad.  We understand the challenges associated with integrating various intelligent sensors into a cohesive and functional smart control system.  The requirement for system integration and testing are critical components of smart infrastructure development.

Electric utilities are installing smart metering systems that communicate energy and operational data to and from meters, allowing near real-time monitoring, reporting, and even control of energy consumption. Smart substations can monitor dynamic grid conditions, evaluate real-time electric prices, leverage situational awareness to manage connected loads, as well as manage Distributed Energy Resources like solar photovoltaics, battery energy storage systems, cogeneration assets, and wind power. Microgrids are increasingly seen as smart energy platforms that provide enhanced power reliability and resilience, and optimize electric distribution systems, distributed generation, and renewable energy sources.  As part of the Philadelphia Navy Yard Grid Modernization program, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, with engineering support from Burns, has designed smart metering and substations, communication and network systems.  These smart infrastructure improvements, at the historic 1,200-acre campus, deliver sustainability, reliability and cost effectiveness that is recognized around the world as a “Smart Energy Campus”.

Airports are building smart infrastructure that embraces remote sensing, cameras, beacons, WiFi access points and mobile phone signals, to optimize security, passenger flows, passenger convenience and provide passenger amenities in a highly mobile and connected environment. Strategies for acquisition, analysis and visualization of data to support safety, commerce and a great travel experience are emerging at a record pace.  Southwest Airlines is one of the first major airlines to capitalize on technologies that allow passenger self-service check-in bag tagging and drop off.  Burns’ work with Southwest Airlines stations throughout the northeast and mid-Atlantic airports has demonstrated the potent advantages of adopting smart infrastructure for passenger satisfaction.

Burns is changing as well. Our critical infrastructure development groups are coming together to create and define smart infrastructure, and helping our clients navigate the promise of infrastructure that responds and adapts.

Smart Infrastructure incorporates elements of several nascent information technologies to deliver adaptive and responsive infrastructure. Rapid advances in the “Internet of Things”, cloud computing, data analytics, wireless communications, and data-level integration are allowing formerly disparate systems to interoperate. Smart infrastructure is defining the way new physical infrastructure is delivered tomorrow.