As one of the oldest engineering professions, civil engineering has been a major force in the advancement of human civilization. From the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Roman aqueduct, the ingenuity of civil engineers is made apparent through intricate planning and impressive execution. Even today, we rely on civil engineers for the design and construction of buildings, bridges, roads, and other large-scale structures with unparalleled sophistication. That’s why structures like the Burj Khalifa and the Golden Gate Bridge are a reality.
Over the past two decades, new technologies, including artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are reshaping several fields. In this post, we explore how these new technologies and concepts will shape the future of civil engineering.
- Transportation of the Future
Transport engineering is a branch of civil engineering involved with the design and construction of structures to aid the movement of people and goods. These structures include roads, bridges, and canals, among many others.
In the last decade, exciting modes of transportation are being made a reality. These include the concepts of electric vehicles and self-driving vehicles. The Nissan Leaf currently holds the world record for a self-navigating, covering a distance of 230 miles. With the widespread adoption of these autonomous vehicles, we would have to rethink our highways.
To cater to the increasing number of electric vehicles, the number of charging stations will also need to increase. Civil engineers will be needed to figure out smart ways to incorporate these new needs into the current transport infrastructure.
However, some new transport technologies will require civil engineers to come up with new designs, the likes of which have never been seen before. For instance, the Hyperloop, as proposed by Tesla and SpaceX, will involve the construction of low-pressure long tubes capable of transporting pods at speeds up to 760 mph. Civil engineering will play a key role in making this a reality.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The word “AI” gets thrown around so often that it might sound banal to someone unaware of the full extent of its capabilities. In simple terms, artificial intelligence is concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. How cool does that sound?
AI has been applied to chatbot technology, healthcare, sports betting, and many other fields. In civil engineering, AI methods have been extensively used in construction management, building materials, hydraulic optimization, transportation engineering, and geotechnical engineering.
As we accumulate more data, engineers can better train AI models to perform these tasks with ever-increasing sophistication. What this means is that many professional tasks that usually require human engineers to make crucial decisions can now be automated. What we anticipate is a great improvement in the speed of project delivery, as well as a drastic reduction in cost and human labor.
- High-Tech Revolution in Structural Engineering
Structural engineering is a subfield of civil engineering concerned with the strength and stability of buildings, bridges, and other structures. Structural engineering helps to outline the behavior of individual structural members and the most suitable geometries and material requirements for them.
Computer modeling harnessing AI allows for the development of complex structures with minimal human input. Cloud computing makes it possible to make enormous calculations in real-time. Tasks that traditionally took structural engineers weeks to complete can now be done within minutes.
A good example of the application of these technologies was in the construction of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 828 m. Through computer simulation and modeling, engineers could create several iterations with different materials to come up with a final design optimized for minimal wind loads and materials.
Nanotechnology is concerned with the building of materials and devices on the scale of atoms or molecules. Nanotechnology has a wide range of applications, from improving fuel production efficiency to the use of carbon nanotubes for smaller and more efficient microchips.
The field of civil engineering isn’t excluded. Nanomaterials like nano-silica, nano clays, and nano iron particles are incorporated into concrete to improve its pore structure. This also helps to improve concrete’s early stage strength. Copper nanoparticles are used in steel beam production to reduce roughness, corrosion, and fatigue.
- Sustainable Design
Human actions over the last 250 years have accelerated ozone layer depletion, resulting in global warming and climate change. That’s why over the past few decades, we have been taken conscientious actions to incorporate sustainability into everything we do.
The future of civil engineering is not merely to build – but rather, to do it with the utmost care and consideration for the natural environment. This not only involves the incorporation of green energy, but the incorporation of sustainable planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of infrastructure.
The buildings and structures of the future will boast better precision and efficiency – some of which will look like nothing we’ve seen before. Civil engineers will play a crucial role in making it a reality. But more importantly, civil engineers will act as stewards of the environment in design and construction processes.
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