Experts with technology companies looked back at 2013’s technological breakthroughs and offered insight into technologies and infrastructure changes they expect to see in 2014. The year promises to be a big one with new and developing technology, better public engagement and innovative building processes.

Microdesk, a provider of business and technology consulting services to help firms plan, design, build and operate land and buildings, in December unveiled its annual list of architecture, engineering, construction and operations industry predictions for 2014. The company’s top three predictions highlight advancements and perception shifts around technology, public engagement and building processes it believes will culminate to bolster infrastructure in the United States.

In an interview with GeoDataPoint, Michael DeLacey, president of Microdesk, said building information modeling (BIM) gained a lot of momentum in 2013. “The biggest thing in 2013 was modeling and visualization in modeling and the design process,” he said.

“We’re moving away from 2D documentation to 3D documentation. That created a lot of momentum around LiDAR and laser scanning, and that’s what I think will be the biggest thing in 2014,” DeLacey said. “In 2013, we worked a lot more with companies specializing in laser scanning. Although it’s been around for a while, it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as far as the use of laser scanning and LiDAR for as-built modeling. That’s another big trend: Owners of the infrastructure want accurate as-built models. They are envisioning, in some cases, using these models for maintenance, asset visualization today, but that will grow considerably in 2014. Owners are still trying to figure out the asset management side of things.”

While adoption of advanced technologies such as BIM  is accelerating, Microdesk predicts the need to reduce construction costs and do more with limited funds will prompt further adoption. Certain cities have adopted BIM standards to drive improvements in design and management. In 2014, Microdesk says, this trend will extend to developers of urban projects and large corporations, prompting a bottom-up movement that will then move to more of the nation's cities.

“In the building space, vertical construction, BIM has become a de facto standard. Most of the firms we’ve talked to have told us that most new projects started today will be using BIM,” he said. “Road infrastructures are slower to adopt and that’s starting to change relatively quickly, too. A lot of civil engineering firms want to participate in BIM processes but aren’t sure how, and it’s things like laser scanning and Autodesk’s ReCap technology that allows them to come around to generate point clouds. The tools for creating new design information in 3D are getting much better.”

Karen Weiss, senior industry marketing manager at Autodesk, told GeoDataPoint the company’s InfraWorks, a 3D data analysis system, is helping customers do things they never could before. She expects smaller firms, such as surveying companies, to benefit from the software.

“In surveying, it has been very slowly evolving,” she said. “When the recession hit, many surveyors we talked to said they either adapt to new technologies or go out of business. Now equipment is more affordable and surveyors are using point clouds and are excited about things they can do with that.

“It’s exciting to see a small firm embrace something like ReCap and they can see what doors open for them, the benefits they can gain and the new services they can offer customers as things become more affordable.”

As the cost of acquiring technologies for survey and engineering firms decreases, as it has in the past year, more firms will begin using it in 2014.

Autodesk University in December had an infrastructure symposium ahead of the conference, which about 1,000 people attended. DeLacey said he was surprised that many people were interested.

“Owners can see it being used in projects. That makes it unavoidable,” he said. “In my opinion, there are still lots of civil engineering firms that are not proactively seeking out new technology. A lot of firms feel like they are efficient and getting work done and there is little reason to change. Education is needed to show these firms how other firms are using this technology to do more innovative things."

DeLacey also expects a heavy education focus from Autodesk and other companies this year as well as a concerted effort to educate and inform owners and look to get government mandates in place.

Weiss adds: “The line between these disciplines has been fading. These technologies could be architecture, city planning, civil engineering. We’re crossing boundaries. You can look at things you never considered before. It’s awesome.”

Matt Mason, director of software development at ImaginIT, and Beau Turner, director of business development, are part of the team behind Autodesk’s Revit Scan to BIM software. They said in the past couple years even more engineering and construction companies have been wanting to commit themselves to laser scanning on renovation projects.

“The people who are purchasing the software today are more likely to be engineers or construction companies themselves who are, for the most part, outsourcing the scanning,” Mason said.

He said the point cloud is deliverable, versus the point cloud and model. “That’s reflected in who is purchasing our software versus service providers,” he said.

Photogrammetry continues to be a topic of interest, but it still isn’t being used much for real work, Mason said.

“How close are they to getting to the point where people can use photographs relatable enough to do a great job? It’s very much a hobbyist thing or investigation scanning today,” he said. “From a purely scanning perspective, forensics is a growing business. We saw that jump when it went it from civil surveying to building surveying and now has jumped to forensics.”

Turner said the biggest thing he sees in laser scanning side is with available tools that offer more data. “If I’ve got something that’s here already in my pocket, like people carry phones, and have a level of accuracy of at least four inches, that’s better than going around with a tape measure.”