Why Geospatial Web Portals Are the Future of Infrastructure Projects (Video)
When the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) embarked on a project two years ago to rebuild the tracks along the 40-year-old south Red Line, from Cermak-Chinatown to 95th Street/Dan Ryan, project engineers and project managers already had cutting-edge technology at their disposal through Dynasty Group Inc., the firm charged with laser scanning the project and the overall management of the field operations. What the CTA didn’t realize is how innovative data management tools being implemented by Dynasty Group would benefit their project downstream.
Founded in 1994, the Chicago-based engineering and surveying firm has a reputation as the go-to service provider for laser scanning in Illinois. The company’s portfolio includes noteworthy topographic surveys for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), as well as numerous private contractors. A hybrid survey of the historic Wells Street Bascule Bridge over the Chicago River in 2008 prior to a major reconstruction project is just one example of the firm’s ability to apply innovation to achieve a beneficial outcome. In that case, the combination of 3D laser scanning, total station surveying and nontraditional post-processing techniques reduced field time by 20 percent and impressed stakeholders with high-quality drawings and visuals. Since then, Dynasty Group has continued searching for ways to harness technology to provide new solutions.
In 2011, it was the cloud that attracted the firm’s attention. Zhong Chen, PE, PLS, president of Dynasty Group, led the development of a web-based platform that would streamline operations within the firm and provide key personnel with instant access to data on any project based on a location search. Called uGRIDD, the Web portal proved invaluable to Dynasty’s internal project teams.
When the firm began working on the CTA Red Line project, Chen decided to show the Web portal tool to the client to see if they might find it useful. Within a few days, the chief engineer and several senior managers from CTA were in Chen’s office to get a personal tour.
“That was the first time anyone in management had paid direct attention to our data. I was amazed,” Chen said. “That’s when it dawned on me: The decision-makers on our projects have an interest in our data; they’re actually hungry for that information. Many of them don’t have direct access to the engineering software that our deliverables are based on, and they don’t have time to access it. Yet bringing our product close to that group of people is important to our profession. A Web portal was the ideal solution.”
The firm established uGRIDD as a separate company and began focusing on external applications. Through a subscription-based service and a tool called uSHARE, other surveying and engineering firms could upload their own data for consumption by the public or by user groups (such as client project teams) as high-value maps with multiple data layers. A tool called uFIND would allow users to quickly find the data they needed through a location of interest (LOI)—a point, line or shape with a search range from 0 to 20 miles. A usage-based service called uSHOW would allow the creation of custom URLs and access to post-processing tools. Through the incorporation of worldwide georeferencing on thousands of grid systems and multiple projections, the service would be a valuable planning tool for engineers, project managers and other surveyors. Users would be able to produce customized data maps on their own project coordinate systems without converting the data.
For more than a year and a half, Dynasty Group quietly worked on the uGRIDD platform behind the scenes. Then, in late 2012, the company made uGRIDD available in a beta format to outside users.
Recently, the company opened uGRIDD to general use with the many new layers of data, such as the national bridge inventory, nationwide section, township and county boundary lines, updated National Geodetic Survey (NGS) monuments and CORS, Illinois LiDAR Data covering 19 counties, regional tax maps and property line atlas in the Chicago land area. According to Chen, the service already has several hundred subscribers, and interest is growing rapidly.
The experience on the CTA Red Line project explains why. Through the uGRIDD platform, CTA was able to share some of the laser scan data to potential bidders through videos and Leica TruView visualizations to provide a better understanding of the bid packages. Later on in the process, the project manager for one of the CTA stations outside of the original project scope expressed a need for data in a specific area. Through talking to a CTA project manager, he learned about the uGRIDD platform. After obtaining CTA authorization, the CTA project manager was able to log in to the user group and quickly determine that Dynasty Group already had about 50 percent of the data needed for that section of the project—enough to jumpstart the project and save half the cost.
The ability to quickly and easily access key pieces of information in a visual format improves funding, streamlines projects and saves money. It’s a good indicator of what’s to come in the future of infrastructure projects.
“Direct, immediate access to the data by all project stakeholders is a huge benefit,” Chen said. “Everybody feels great in that exercise. uGRIDD is designed to encourage more and more of that happening between surveyors, engineers and agencies.”