UK & Europe Director for Intelligent Mobility
Our world is changing faster than ever before, with technologies emerging that have the potential to revolutionise the way we live and work together.
However, there is a danger that technology advances so quickly that there is a disconnect with the people that it was designed for, says Caroline Paradise, Head of Design Research at Atkins: “It’s important to remember the human aspect of design – how the user fits into this changing world and how they engage with and use the technology. As consumers of the built environment and infrastructure, people are central to this.”
All this new technology has to fit in with existing infrastructure, she adds. “We need to think about how new technology interfaces with the world we currently live in as well as a future state.”
To this end, Atkins has just taken on a cyborg ethnographer, to study and explain to clients the relationship between humans and machines. “We hope to reinforce the importance of the relationship between humans and assets,” says Nathan Marsh, Atkins’ UK & Europe Director for Intelligent Mobility.
“I worry that people are building the most advanced technology and not dedicating enough time to really understanding the human-related implications of robotics and automation,” he adds. “Human acceptance of next-generation technology is key.”
The wider consequences of individual technological developments are not always thought through, he adds: “Autonomous vehicles are really, really smart, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. When entire vehicle fleets are autonomous, it could challenge the need for all sorts of things we accept as normal, such as bus stops, car parks, personal insurance, or even driving lessons.”
The factors that may limit the spread of technology are not always obvious, either. “The big challenge for autonomous vehicles might not just be in the technology – it will be whether we have enough fast and reliable Wi-Fi connectivity to keep vehicle networks running and safe,” says Marsh. “Also, will we have enough server space? One state-of-the-art autonomous car running for 15 minutes generates as much data as the Large Hadron Collider, and we need to model in what 100,000–200,000 of these vehicles will need, and generate, to keep us confident that we are ready for them. Server space and Wi-Fi are not going to make headlines, but they’re absolutely crucial parts of technology acceptance.”
Despite these potential barriers, digital is offering clear benefits when it comes to asset management, by combining with other technologies to improve the way we design, build, operate and maintain physical assets. For example, components that need replacing can now be 3D printed directly from a 3D digital model, and we can create a “digital twin” of an aircraft that acts both as a blueprint for the particular type of plane and a record of the life of an individual aircraft, and that tracks any modifications over the duration of its operational life.