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Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

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“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” wondered Anne Guerry in a Stanford University article in which Sarah Cafasso explains how Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities.

Stanford researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Stanford Natural Capital Project researchers have developed software that shows city planners where to invest in nature to improve people’s lives and save billions of dollars.

By Sarah Cafasso, Stanford Natural Capital Project

New technology could help cities around the world improve people’s lives while saving billions of dollars. The free, open-source software developed by the Stanford Natural Capital Project creates maps to visualize the links between nature and human wellbeing. City planners and developers can use the software to visualize where investments in nature, such as parks and marshlands, can maximize benefits to people, like protection from flooding and improved health.

By 2050, over 70 percent of the world’s people are projected to live in cities. As the global community becomes increasingly urban, cities are looking for ways to design with sustainability in mind. (Image credit: Zhang Mengyang / iStock)

“This software helps design cities that are better for both people and nature,” said Anne Guerry, Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project. “Urban nature is a multitasking benefactor – the trees on your street can lower temperatures so your apartment is cooler on hot summer days. At the same time, they’re soaking up the carbon emissions that cause climate change, creating a free, accessible place to stay healthy through physical activity and just making your city a more pleasant place to be.”

By 2050, experts expect over 70 percent of the world’s people to live in cities – in the United States, more than 80 percent already do. As the global community becomes more urban, developers and city planners are increasingly interested in green infrastructure, such as tree-lined paths and community gardens, that provide a stream of benefits to people. But if planners don’t have detailed information about where a path might encourage the most people to exercise or how a community garden might buffer a neighborhood from flood risk while helping people recharge mentally, they can’t strategically invest in nature.

“We’re answering three crucial questions with this software: where in a city is nature providing what benefits to people, how much of each benefit is it providing and who is receiving those benefits?” said Perrine Hamel, lead author on a new paper about the software published in Urban Sustainability and Livable Cities Program Lead at the Stanford Natural Capital Project at the time of research.

The software, called Urban InVEST, is the first of its kind for cities and allows for the combination of environmental data, like temperature patterns, with social demographics and economic data, like income levels. Users can input their city’s datasets into the software or access a diversity of open global data sources, from NASA satellites to local weather stations. The new software joins the Natural Capital Project’s existing InVEST software suite, a set of tools designed for experts to map and model the benefits that nature provides to people.

To test Urban InVEST, the team applied the software in multiple cities around the world: Paris, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China; and several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. In many cases, they worked with local partners to understand priority questions – in Paris, candidates in a municipal election were campaigning on the need for urban greenery, while in Minneapolis, planners were deciding how to repurpose underused golf course land.

Running the numbers

In Shenzhen, China, the researchers used Urban InVEST to calculate how natural infrastructure like parks, grassland and forest would reduce damages in the event of a severe, once-in-one-hundred years storm. They found that the city’s nature would help avoid $25 billion in damages by soaking up rain and diverting floodwaters. They also showed that natural infrastructure – like trees and parks – was reducing the daily air temperature in Shenzhen by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) during hot summer days, providing a dollar value of $71,000 per day in benefits to the city.

Targeting inequities

A map of the Paris metropolitan area of France showing neighborhoods with the lowest access to green spaces (yellow), the lowest income neighborhoods (red), and an overlap of the two (blue) where, according to the Urban InVEST software, investing in green spaces like parks would have the greatest impact on reducing inequalities. (Image credit: Perrine Hamel et al)

Nature is often distributed unevenly across cities – putting lower-income people at a disadvantage. Data show that lower-income and marginalized communities often have less access to nature in cities, meaning they are unable to reap the benefits, like improved mental and physical health, that nature provides to wealthier populations.

In Paris, the researchers looked at neighborhoods without access to natural areas and overlaid income and economic data to understand who was receiving benefits from nature. The software helped determine where investments in more greenspace – like parks and bike paths – could be most effective at boosting health and wellbeing in an equitable way.

Planning for a greener future

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota region, golf revenue is declining. The downturn has created an appealing opportunity for private golf courses to sell off their land for development. But should developers create a new park or build a new neighborhood? Urban InVEST showed how, compared to golf courses, new parks could increase urban cooling, keep river waters clean, support bee pollinators and sustain dwindling pockets of biodiversity. New residential development, on the other hand, would increase temperatures, pollute freshwater and decrease habitat for bees and other biodiversity.

Healthy city ecosystems

Urban InVEST is already seeing use outside of a research setting – it recently helped inform an assessment of how nature might help store carbon and lower temperatures in 775 European cities.

“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” said Guerry, also an author on the paper. “With Urban InVEST, city governments can bring all of nature’s benefits to residents and visitors. They can address inequities and build more resilient cities, resulting in better long-term outcomes for people and nature.”

AI used to examine construction following earthquakes

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SmartCitiesWorld News team informs that AI is used to examine construction following earthquakes in its vital assessment concerning quality, safety and potential risks in its future usage.

The picture above is about how an App helps engineers identify structural issues. Photo courtesy: Build Change

AI used to examine construction following earthquakes

An open-source project hosted by the Linux Foundation with support from IBM and Call for Code will use machine learning to help inform quality assurance for construction in emerging nations.

A new open source machine learning tool has been developed to help inform quality assurance for construction in emerging nations.

Build Change, with support from IBM as part of the Call for Code initiative, created the Intelligent Supervision Assistant for Construction (ISAC-SIMO) tool to feedback on specific construction elements such as masonry walls and reinforced concrete columns.

Structural issues

The aim is to help engineers identify structural issues in masonry walls or concrete columns, especially in areas affected by disasters.

Users can choose a building element check and upload a photo from the site to receive a quick assessment.

“ISAC-SIMO has amazing potential to radically improve construction quality and ensure that homes are built or strengthened to a resilient standard, especially in areas affected by earthquakes, windstorms, and climate change,” said Dr Elizabeth Hausler, founder and CEO of Build Change.

“We’ve created a foundation from which the open source community can develop and contribute different models to enable this tool to reach its full potential. The Linux Foundation, building on the support of IBM over these past three years, will help us build this community.”

The ISAC-SIMO project, hosted by the Linux Foundation, was imagined as a solution to help bridge gaps in technical knowledge that were apparent in the field. It packages important construction quality assurance checks into a mobile app.

“ISAC-SIMO has amazing potential to radically improve construction quality and ensure that homes are built or strengthened to a resilient standard, especially in areas affected by earthquakes, windstorms, and climate change”

The app ensures that workmanship issues can be more easily identified by anyone with a phone, instead of solely relying on technical staff. It does this by comparing user-uploaded images against trained models to assess whether the work done is broadly acceptable (go) or not (no go) along with a specific score.

Workmanship issues can be identified by anyone with a phone. Photo courtesy: Build Change

“Due to the pandemic, the project deliverables and target audience have evolved. Rather than sharing information and workflows between separate users within the app, the app has pivoted to provide tools for each user to perform their own checks based on their role and location,” added Daniel Krook, IBM chief technology officer for the Call for Code initiative.

“This has led to a general framework that is well-suited for plugging in models from the open source community, beyond Build Change’s original use case.”

Construction elements

According to Build Change, the project encourages new users to contribute and to deploy the software in new environments around the world. Priorities for short term updates include improvements in user interface, contributions to the image dataset for different construction elements, and support to automatically detect if the perspective of an image is flawed.

Build Change seeks to help save lives in earthquakes and windstorms. Its mission is to prevent housing loss caused by disasters by transforming the systems that regulate, finance, build, and improve houses around the world.

What Is the Internet of Taxes?

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What Is the Internet of Taxes? A question answered by Toby Bargar in his article dated May 13, 2021, explains how in this day and age, the Internet generally is gradually spreading wider and wider to cover most daily life. But to this extent, who would have thought so?

So, let us see what it is all about.

What Is the Internet of Taxes?

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, IoT could have an annual economic impact of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion by 2025. Adoption is accelerating across several settings, including factories, retailers, and even the human body. In fact, smart cities will reportedly create business opportunities worth $2.46 trillion by 2025, and by 2030 more than 70% of global smart city, spending will be from the United States, Western Europe, and China. With AI and the rollout of 5G facilitating faster speeds and scalability, we will see even greater demand across sectors for IoT solutions.

The ability to tax IoT may require changing laws and regulations. As we continue to adopt smart solutions, companies have to get smart about the nuances and risks of IoT taxability.

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An oft-repeated phrase says that nothing is certain but death and taxes; however, in the case of IoT, we can say that nothing is certain but growth and taxes – we don’t yet know how it’s all going to shake out. The demand for IoT is going to tempt federal, state, and local jurisdictions to tax it. With voice communications taxable revenues declining, taxing IoT is an attractive option to replenish their coffers.

In 1998, Congress passed a moratorium banning state and local governments from taxing internet access. This ban was extended several times. The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA) converted the moratorium to a permanent ban and was fully implemented nationwide on July 1, 2020. Since the initial moratorium, the internet has risen to be a critical communication tool over other more highly taxed wireless and landline voice options, which continue a steady decline.

The ability to tax IoT may require changing laws and regulations. This process could take some time, but there is a complicated web of laws, regulations, and tax liabilities surrounding IoT in the interim. As we continue to adopt smart solutions, companies have to get smart about the nuances and risks of IoT taxability.

There are two easy questions that will help you to begin to understand your IoT taxability risk.

1) Is your company selling internet access?
2) Is your connectivity embedded or over-the-top?

Over-the-Top or Embedded Connectivity

If your device is networked over a user-supplied connection, then access is over-the-top or bring-your-own Internet connectivity. The over-the-top connection can be wired, Wi-Fi, or purchased separately from a wireless service. For example, if you sell a wireless printer, users connect through their home or office network. You are not supplying the internet, but the device. In these cases, as an IoT device maker, you likely have no responsibility for the customer’s internet connection.

Different than over-the-top, an embedded connection is part of the device. If you sell a device that comes with its own data connection as a component of the sale or service plan, it is embedded. Smartphones are a great example of an embedded connection. The relationships between device makers and network operators can feature widely variable structures. The device provider may need to account for any taxes that need to be collected related to the connection.

The World Wide Web of Gray

Defining internet access may appear intuitive, but not all connectivity is considered internet access. If you are selling a service that meets the statutory definitions of ISP service, the federal law provides a moratorium against state and local taxes.

Private connectivity, however, is often taxable. Unlike the public internet, private connectivity occurs via a Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN). This type of access is considered a taxable communication service in most states. If the network is interstate, this will also subject you to the Federal Universal Service Fund fee (FUSF), which is currently 33.4%, an all-time high for this fee and growing higher every quarter.

However, there are questions about whether connections to devices that do not enable a WWW experience – you connect to the internet, but the end-user can’t log onto Facebook or perform a Google search – meet the federal definitions of ISP service. If you do not meet those definitions, then your likely tax destination could be LAN/WAN.

Avoid the Dead Zone

IoT is here to stay. As you develop and deploy IoT solutions, it will be critical to stay informed on the web of tax rules that may or may not apply to your business. Monitor federal and state agencies that have jurisdiction over internet taxation and stay abreast of any changes on the horizon.

With so much uncertainty, it can be tempting to push the envelope, but a conservative interpretation of tax guidance can proactively protect you from being caught off guard.

Finally, to avoid hitting a dead zone, don’t try to navigate the changes on your own. Consult with your tax and legal advisors to ensure that you are aware of the latest developments and plan your course of action accordingly.

How will the technology revolution of Construction 4.0 impact people?

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A New Civil Engineer‘s article by Fred SHERRATT tries to answer How will the technology revolution of Construction 4.0 impact people?’ Preceding these excerpts and highlights through our bolds with all due respect for all involved are our thoughts.

The debate about the digital transformation of the construction industry in its different markets across, for instance, the MENA region, has been well surveyed on projects through the role of technology in shaping the next phase of development.

The impact of digitalisation in the region’s construction will encompass a radical change in all sectors. Such sectors as electricity and transport, particularly road construction, are naturally, as it were, prone to be digitally handled through automation with a certain ease. According to many observers, the building industry though being, as it were, more vernacular in its diversity and composition, would require still lots of digital innovation and eventually be a crucial driver of future growth in the construction industry. Collected data on what digitisation means for the construction industry to be spent on in the MENA region illustrates well over the recent past. Most concerns are for those countries of the Gulf whether the future’s Construction sites will be people-free’ for obvious reasons and the opposite for the rest of the MENA region.

The picture above is for illustration and is of The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Ahmad Sufian Bayram.


Fred Sherratt is the interim deputy dean for research and innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University

How will the technology revolution of Construction 4.0 impact people?

Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution! Under Construction 4.0 robots lay bricks and drones carry out surveys. Improved connectivity and data management means AI and machine learning can plan projects better than humans ever could. Building information modelling (BIM) has blossomed, projects completed in the virtual world before ground is even broken. Computer controlled craftsmanship optimises design, whilst the Internet of Things enables the use of real-time data processing and digital twins to optimise delivery on site.

Fred Sherratt is the interim deputy dean for research and innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University

And for an industry told to Modernise or Die this could not have come at a better time.

Construction 4.0 promises increased efficiencies, enhanced and optimised productivity. Not to mention savings of time and money through reductions of labour, material and processing costs. This is trumpeted across the industry through voices heavy with technological optimism, industrial progress, all the benefits and rewards this revolution will bring, as well as scare stories for those not getting on board now – you’ll be left behind if you miss the boat!

But maybe we should think a little more critically about this. Because we have been here before. Three times to be precise.

And, it hasn’t always gone well. Not least because technology is not neutral, as Jacque Ellul argued in 1954. The underlying rational and objective methods that drive its implementation also instil within it an autonomy and amorality that is potentially dangerous. People and industries are compelled to adapt to technological change – as who but a Luddite would challenge all the promises it brings? – but such change is not always positive. History shows that technology can fundamentally disrupt the ways industries are structured and operate: workers are not just replaced by robots, things change so much neither robots or people are needed at all. So just because we can, doesn’t mean we should, and certainly not without careful deliberation.

Our industry contributes significantly to UK employment, including many site workers who’ve struggled with formal education whilst their myriad practical skills have long been devalued. For them, Construction 4.0 presents a positive narrative of “reskilling” or “multi-skilled” workers, but history suggests a downgrading of both job roles and earning potential is actually much more likely. Technological advancements tend to reduce labour requirements overall and also split skilled roles into two: new tasks only requiring one degree-qualified manager and some unskilled labour, with reduced quality of work and thus less remuneration. Estimates suggest 50% of traditional construction work could be automated over the next 20 years, making this a significant concern. But Construction 4.0 doesn’t care, the amorality technology brings to progress creates a convenient myopia for social consequences such as this. Any reduction in the numbers of people employed or their potential earnings is beneficial – a reduction in wage costs, hurrah! It’s just a shame about the jobs, and the satisfaction people used to be able to realise from skilled manual work.

And it is not just site workers who are vulnerable to such “progress”. Engineers have already seen their work shift into the virtual, where they now sit in front of screens to design and provide information to control and guide subcontractors. Their work is now shaped and structured by new technologies which require specialist skills for operation, and which also created new roles that potentially undermine professional autonomy. Whilst professionals were upskilling themselves, “BIM managers” took charge of the design process as a whole, because they were best able to navigate and negotiate the software, not because they were best skilled to lead design development or coordination. Although things have rebalanced as training caught up, professionals across our industry are now forced into ways of working as the technology dictates, choice is no longer an option.

Indeed, the “technology owner” may even become the dominant industry professional in the future, through the autonomy unquestionably conferred on them. Indeed, Cui bono [who will benefit] is never a bad question to ask, particularly in a US$10bn global construction software marketplace. Software vendors promise solutions to all manner of construction process inefficiencies, but in doing so they are also redesigning industry structures to fit their technologies. But the confidence (arrogance), that technology developers can capture (and inevitably improve) what we do is never challenged: they are now gurus to the industry, with little sense of history, craft or profession. The consequences of this dominance could be considerable: a built environment constructed to meet the dictates of technology, rather than the manifestation of the imagination, fun, creativity and humanity of a real person. Are we happy about that?

We should therefore consider carefully whose agendas Construction 4.0 is serving. Our industry does more than simply create our built environment, it also employs vast numbers of people who gain both income and self-validation from this process. Construction 4.0 is challenging how we do things, disrupting us, bringing progress at last to our dinosaur of an industry. But who is challenging Construction 4.0? Luckily it’s all still relatively piecemeal, smoke and mirrors are plentiful, and we are not (yet) at the point of no return. But it’s up to professionals to point out that Construction 4.0 has the potential to do harm as well as good. We should all think a little more critically before we add our voices to the current tsunami of technological optimism. It’s a common trope of our industry that people are our biggest asset. Why don’t we try to keep it that way?

  • Fred Sherratt is the interim deputy dean for research and innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University

Debunking Construction Integration Technology Myths

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Advanced Project Management & System Integration Project Management & System Integration elaborated on the current trends in the construction industry concerning its necessary but vital digitalisation. They came up with what is so apparent, i.e. deconstruct that heavy concrete slab of traditions and day-to-day routines that weighs on the industry. It is all about debunking Construction integration technology myths because Digital integration would otherwise be inefficient.

March 26, 2021

Few construction industry leaders would say they oppose data integration. Most acknowledge that combining different data types and formats into a central location allows access to complete, current and accurate information to help them make fact-based decisions instead of acting on hunches. So why doesn’t every engineering and construction (E&C) firm have a warehouse of integrated data? The culprit is often misinformation created by myths about data integration. We will debunk three of the biggest myths about costs, downtime, and complexity below.


Myth #1: Data integration cannot be achieved without high costs

This myth was once true, and some vendors still do quote integration approaches that are not feasible for many E&C firm budgets. But today, integration solutions once available only to enterprises atop the ENR 500 are now available to small and mid-sized firms. Recent breakthroughs in virtualization, iPaaS, and cloud computing have contributed to their lower costs and broader availability.

Virtualization

As defined by Tech Target, data virtualization is an approach to data management that allows an application to retrieve and manipulate data without requiring technical details, like data format or its physical location. As this technology has matured, it has driven total integration costs down.

Integration Platform as a Solution (iPaaS)

Gartner defines iPaaS as a suite of cloud services enabling development, execution, and governance of integration flows connecting any combination of on-prem and cloud-based processes, services, applications, and data within individual or across multiple organizations.

iPaaS is ideal for E&C firms. Collaborating and sharing information across multidisciplinary teams including owners, architects, consultants, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers using different systems is the cornerstone of E&C work.

Construction organizations typically collaborate with teams across multiple cloud platforms, so when considering iPaaS, look for a cloud-agnostic solution. Some solutions offer packages with varying costs based on the number and/or complexity of flows (data sources) needed. Custom email alerts may also prove helpful, for example, if an error occurs or if a batch is completed.

Cloud Computing

Collecting servers in a single room or rack is no longer necessary. Geographic isolation of data sources is actually a business continuity / disaster recovery best practice. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud were growing in popularity even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sharp increase of remote work and video conferencing accelerated their growth.

E&C firms are deploying more hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud arrangements. Essentially, hybrid cloud refers to the combination of private and public cloud infrastructure, and some or many from an organization’s own data center. Multi-cloud configurations use multiple cloud providers to meet different technical or business requirements. The reason cloud computing, sometimes referred to as infrastructure as a service (IaaS), is so popular is that it allows for fast scalability, broad availability, and low total cost of ownership vs. managing everything in company-owned data centers.


Myth #2: Data integration requires significant downtime

Even during off-peak times, E&C firms want to avoid downtime. Today’s data integration solutions offer rapid time to value with development-cycle times reduced by as much as 33%. Some solutions may be able to eliminate workday downtime with only brief downtime on evenings and weekends.

Containerization, enabling developers to create predictable environments isolated from other applications, is also used by some solutions. With containerization, consistency is guaranteed regardless of where an application is deployed. Containers only use about 60 lines of code so they can be developed and deployed quickly to minimize downtime.


Myth #3: Managing a data warehouse is complicated

What is involved with keeping a data integration platform running?

The short answer is that it depends, but there are solutions that do not require a high degree of information technology (IT) overhead. Look for solutions that include intuitive dashboards to monitor and troubleshoot integrations, the ability to quickly review flows, rerun flows on demand, or view error details, if any.

If using iPaaS, consider a solution that includes a dedicated client-success (CS) manager. The CS manager puts an iPaaS subject-matter expert on your company team, instantly adding value while eliminating the learning curve for an existing team member to become proficient. And unlike a consulting relationship where the expert stays for a while to train your team but then leaves, a client-success manager is always available to create or troubleshoot flows.

Today’s construction and engineering world requires unprecedented external collaboration, with multiple parties outside your organization at every building, site, and external site. The mobile information, in turn, reduces data centralization, creating a greater urgency to adopt a data integration solution.

Want to learn more? Gaea Global Technologies, Inc. has decades of experience with construction and engineering solutions. Nexus, Gaea’s integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) solution, was designed to automate construction processes across applications.

To learn more, visit https://nexus-platform.com/.