Advanced digital techniques transform global homes, cities and transport networks

Erika Parn news

Merging advanced digital building techniques can transform infrastructure and communities, from international tourist hotspots to slums and shanty towns, new research suggests.

Studies undertaken by Erika Pärn, a Lecturer in Architectural Technology at Birmingham City University, have shown that combining a number of technologically advanced construction methods could have a major impact in mapping out entire buildings, cities and road networks.

Built Environment Courses

Birmingham City University

Her ground-breaking work was recently showcased at a major international infrastructure conference in Ghana, where she gave the keynote speech to a packed audience which included the Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, the Ashanti Regional Minister and the Mayor of Kumasi.

Her presentation illustrated that using emerging digital technologies can help create a better understanding of how people utilise land and infrastructure – knowledge which could help create more responsive communities and cost savings for government funded infrastructure schemes.

Pärn is looking into how the technologies, which are most commonly associated with modern commercial buildings, can be merged together and applied to provide smarter cities equipped with facilities, amenities and services to suit the needs of both affluent and deprived populations.

Technologies, such as Building Information Modelling, are normally viewed in isolation but by merging them with other emerging and existing digital technologies they can help plot the ideal locations of critical infrastructure such as homes, shops, roads and water sources, fit for those living in the area.

The new systems could also help lift poor communities out of poverty by ensuring efficient use of land and resources, creating a range of new jobs and providing increased connectivity.

Pärn identifies seven key dimensions of the digital built environment which can be brought together to help analyse the needs and requirements of all members of societies and transform how cities and communities are formed.

The seven key elements are:

  • Optoelectric devices (e.g. laser scanning)
  • Machine learning
  • Sensors and network based technologies
  • Building Information Modelling
  • Machine vision technology
  • Hybrid technology
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Erik Pärn said: "By bringing together these techniques we can make cities and communities which better fit the needs of the people living there, as well as helping to cut the levels of deprivation seen in some areas.

"This includes environmental sustainability and infrastructure operational cost efficiency. It is an exciting prospect to be working with our African colleagues and be at the very forefront of future developments.

"In the UK the government has already laid out a mandate for use of digital building techniques but I think we need to go even further and look at the impact these technologies can have on transforming how whole cities look across the globe."

The techniques could be used to generate entire digitised plans detailing how people use their local areas and used to map ideal locations for roads, houses, clusters of communities to make the most efficient use of the areas.

Future work will seek to radically transform how 21st century smart cities are developed, operated and maintained to get the best of their local areas and reduce negative impacts on the environment.

It will also form the basis of new courses and learning methods that will train future generations of construction and civil engineering professionals in the UK and globally. 

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