Reality Computing technologies are changing the design, production, and management of many products or projects—from cars to factories to highways. But civil infrastructure projects are particularly well suited to Reality Computing, due to their size, scope, and inherent relationship to the physical world around them. In fact, aspects of Reality Computing are already used by many infrastructure design and construction teams.
Today we begin a new series of posts that will help engineers, contractors, and owners involved in civil infrastructure projects understand the fundamentals of Reality Computing and benefits of using Reality Computing on infrastructure projects.
What is Reality Computing?
The use of digital project models and information is a well-established practice for civil infrastructure design. However, design constitutes only the middle part of an infrastructure project, which starts with documenting existing conditions and ends with delivering the project. Reality Computing is an emerging technology category that focuses on the integration of digital design environments and the physical world—enabling the direct capture of spatial information from the physical world, and direct delivery of digital information into the physical world.
Why is it important?
Any design process must take into account the physical context of the design. Wire harnesses must be mounted within a car’s structural frame. A building’s MEP systems must snake through interstitial spaces. But the design context and the size of most infrastructure projects set them apart from other design processes. The root origin of the word ‘infra’ is a Latin prefix meaning below or beneath, which points at the importance of Reality Computing for civil engineering. Infrastructure projects rest on the physical world beneath us. Their design context includes the physical world around us and, when constructed, affect the physical world in ways other projects and products do not. Existing conditions (such as surrounding landscape, existing structures, communities, and so forth) have to be accounted for before design can even begin. And for many projects, construction will occur in highly constrained physical environments.
Therefore, the integration of the physical world into the digital design and delivery process is particularly important for civil infrastructure projects. Reality Computing technologies help civil engineers digitally capture existing conditions of the area below and around a proposed infrastructure project, digitally design the project in the context of that setting, and digitally reshape existing terrain and build new infrastructure. For example:
Capture -- The physical world can be digitally captured using technologies such as 3D laser scanning to accurately record the physical world.
Compute -- Software tools are used to both process and integrate reality data directly into design and construction workflows. These tools connect the digital capture of the physical world (capture) and the physical delivery of the digital world (create).
Create -- Digital design information can be materialized using technologies ranging from machine-controlled grading to prefabrication. Digital designs can also be presented visually in the context of the surrounding environment.
In the next several posts, we’ll explore how civil engineers can use Reality Computing technologies to capture, compute, and create their infrastructure projects, including current and emerging practices. A final post will present real-life examples of firms using Reality Computing on their infrastructure projects.