Discussing current issues in engineering
With everyone’s favorite time for filling up on pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce coming up, most of us can say we know Thanksgiving’s history and traditions pretty well. While you prep your turkey, here are some facts you might not have learned in kindergarten:
We’re thankful for all we have this year, and we hope you get to enjoy time with friends and family this Thanksgiving!
A few weeks ago, Alphabet’s drone unit Wing launched the first commercial drone delivery in the United States.
The company is partnering with Walgreens and FedEx, beating out other big competitors like Amazon. Christiansburg, Virginia is one of the first cities among a few more in Virginia that will get to try out food, coffee, and medicine delivery by drone in only a few minutes. Walgreens is officially the first U.S. retailer to air-deliver products to customers directly by drone, and FedEx is the first logistics company to do so.
“Innovation has been part of the FedEx DNA since day one, and we are always looking for new and better ways to deliver the world to our customers’ doorsteps,” said Don Colleran, president and CEO of FedEx Express. “For our customers in Christiansburg, this collaboration will test the latest innovation in the last mile of a residential package delivery. We hope that this latest addition to our delivery options will enhance the last-mile service for urgent same-day deliveries, customers in rural or semirural areas, and other exceptional delivery needs.”
As this technology spreads to more common use, it will be especially beneficial for people who are homebound or have disabilities which make going out more difficult. If the technology develops even further, it could potentially help people who live in more isolated areas get access to more product options.
Alphabet was the first firm to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, but more companies including Uber and UPS are inching towards securing their own federal approval. The Wing won’t be the only drone available for consumers for much longer!
By 2050, over 65% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Cities are the increasingly popular choice because of their proximity to city centers, schools, offices, and so on. But cities are also on the front lines of being most affected by climate change over time.
Initiatives in many major cities are working on ways to “green” urban spaces—that is, to reduce the area’s carbon footprint without taking away basic functions like transportation. Green spaces are one way to do it: in addition to making cities more beautiful, they also work to capture stormwater and reduce heat, and often the presence of green spaces encourages people to bike or walk.
Rooftop gardens are another way to make cities greener while also looking beautiful: they improve air quality, conserve energy, and help reduce the urban heat island effect as ground-level green spaces do. And engineers are making buildings more environmentally friendly by using “green infrastructure”—from porous pavements to retention ponds and bioswales.
It seems some cities have found a balance between productivity and conservation. The Italian city of Milan features the Bosco Verticale, a sustainable high-rise development that functions as a vertical forest. New York city is working on doubling the number of curbside rain gardens that efficiently absorb rainwater. And L.A.’s metro is committing to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050.
To read more about existing green cities and suggestions for ways more cities can improve, see the full article here on the ASCE website.
Researchers at Brunel University London and Mutah University in Jordan have recently developed a way of making “stronger” concrete meant to hold up to extreme temperatures. They discovered that by adding sodium acetate to concrete mix, it renders the concrete more resistant to extremely hot or cold conditions.
Traditionally, it’s difficult to preserve concrete in cold weather because micro-cracks easily form where the water in the mixture freezes. Very hot temperatures can weaken bonds between the cement and aggregates in concrete, also leading to weakened material. By adding sodium acetate, concrete absorbs less water and increases its compressive strength, leading to stronger concrete that will require less maintenance in the long run.
Concrete has numerous uses in our field and many others: it’s an important building product, a sustainable material for residential and commercial projects, is fire resistant and easy to shape, and is typically easy to repair. By making traditional concrete stronger, the many projects that depend on concrete would benefit by becoming more stable.
To read more about the details of this research, see the article on the New Civil Engineer website.
With Congress coming back in session after their August recess, some significant federal funding bills are set to potentially pass through legislation. With last year’s low infrastructure grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, it’s easy to see why these legislations are important. Here are some of the major infrastructural issues we’re watching for this session:
All of these issues work together to determine how strong our country’s infrastructure is. We hope to see some priority given to improving our national roadways, public parks, and other vital issues this year.
Labor Day might mostly be recognized as a chance for a long weekend getaway, but the day is intended to commemorate the over 150 million people in the United States workforce. Here are some fun facts about the holiday to enjoy on your day off:
We hope you have a relaxing day to spend with family and friends!
Residents in many cities likely notice (and complain about) what seems like constant construction on their streets, from small pothole fixes to larger repaving and commercial building projects. Construction might be more of a nuisance in highly populated cities during rush hour, but that only amplifies concerns for safety, both of construction workers and for those who try to navigate around it.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian fatalities have unfortunately increased—primarily at nighttime, when visibility is the lowest. Contributing factors include poor visibility and blind spots on large construction vehicles. While safety has improved over the years on and off construction sites, many operators are starting to invest in stricter safety procedures like vehicle safety systems and radar obstacle detection technology.
One example of these systems is called a Backsense Radar, which uses Frequency Modulated Continuous Waves to eliminate the multiple blind spots on a vehicle, alerting its driver if objects are nearby. It gives a loud, clear warning when a blind spot obstruction appears and transmits a continuously-varying signal. It can also be customized to fit different sized vehicles on construction sites across customized detection areas. Systems like this are more effective than alternative pulsed radar technology, which provides slower feedback and can often only cover one blind spot at a time.
This is only one way in improving safety on and around construction sites, but systems like Backsense are a great start. The ability to detect objects and people in blind spots is crucial to safety on and around worksites, where workers have to carefully navigate their every move. To read more about the ways radar is used to decrease injuries on the road, click here for the full article.
You might have noticed more and more mention of autonomous cars recently—big companies like Tesla and Google are working on taking advantage of what many hope is the next big technological leap. Driverless cars come with many potential benefits including safer driving, but there are still issues to work out before making autonomous driving mainstream. One of them is basic reasoning.
Humans are remarkably good at navigating roads we’re unfamiliar with; even when using a GPS, we rely on observation and our senses to determine where we need to go. Driverless cars, however, can’t reason in the same way. Part of the problem is due to how these cars navigate now: in every new area, they first use complex maps to analyze all new roads, then generate 3D scans to rely on. This process is time-consuming and not always reliable in more rural areas.
Researchers at MIT are working on this shortfall by creating a system that uses only simple maps and visual data to help driverless cars navigate routes in new, complicated environments. By creating an end-to-end navigation system, offering new maps available for cars to download, and creating an easier way to store and process maps, these cars should be able to navigate more easily in unfamiliar areas. Since car-to-infrastructure communication is essential for driverless cars to function smoothly, researchers are hoping this new system will make the process run more efficiently.
It turns out that even smart, driverless cars need to depend on human intuition to fill in the gaps that advanced technology can’t match! For more on MIT’s project, see the article here on Science Daily.
Earthquakes like this month’s 7.1 magnitude quake can be devastating. But new ways of planning and building now exist to take into account these disasters, particularly in urban cities along fault lines. For engineers in these areas, this adds an important dimension to civil and structural design.
Buildings are already built to withstand vertical stress on a day-to-day basis; anything from heavy weight bearing to strong winds are always considered when designing a structure. However, major quakes put horizontal stress on buildings—a stress for which earlier buildings weren’t designed, making old buildings far more likely to collapse or suffer damage during an earthquake.
Earthquake simulators are one way engineers can assess potential seismic behavior in vulnerable regions. For example, researchers at Lehigh University established a real-time multi-directional simulation facility to develop models of large-scale structures to replicate seismic events. The data collected from sensors are then processed by a team, ultimately enabling them to accurately test the nature of structural collapse. This helps to make sure any new structures are adequately designed and built in case of another fault-line disaster.
To read more about earthquakes and their impact on the way civil engineers have shaped design strategies around them, check out this graphic from Norwich University.
The American Society of Civil Engineer’s new effort, Future World Vision: Infrastructure Reimagined, asks civil engineers to consider the shifts in ways we learn, practice, and manage our profession in the upcoming decades. With rapid development in technology approaching, the most important global trends civil engineers will need to consider are:
The ways these trends intersect and affect one another will be critical in determining the ways civil engineers utilize their services in the future. Transportation needs, artificial intelligence, and new forms of construction will significantly change our everyday lives as we continue to progress, and keeping up with these trends early-on allows us to envision ways to accommodate this new environment.
For example, growing needs in transportation automation lead us to consider new ways people and goods will be moved more efficiently. If automated vehicles and hyperloop public transportation become commonplace, soon enough it will fundamentally affect the ways cities are built around them, which in turn would impact almost any design. With hyperloop plans already considered in many major cities worldwide, changes in the ways we live, work, and commute are only a few ways technology will change the field in the future.
To learn more about the full Future World Vision effort, take a look at their website and full report here.
Colman Engineering, PLC
A professional engineering firm located in Harrisonburg, VA