Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What Obstacles Stand in the Way of the Construction Industry Embracing Emerging Technology?

When it comes of the potential technology holds for transforming the construction industry, an interesting question to ask at this point is: what are the obstacles standing in the way of adopting new and emerging technology on a large scale? Those that are or have been employed in construction know what a unique industry it is. There are employment & labor, safety, management and legal factors that make construction stand apart from other businesses. When it comes to technology, the industry is typically late in making use of new innovations. We’re at a moment now when it seems like change is coming fast and strong, but what does that timeline really look like? Perhaps the industry should be moving quicker to utilize the advancements now available, but realistically practical uses could be much further away. Here are a few reasons why we see change come so slowly to construction, and what stands in the away of technical innovation being embraced by the industry.

One huge argument for why the construction industry is so slow to innovate is risk management. The sheer size and heft of the building industry make change difficult and expensive. Some argue that waiting until there is no longer a choice in the matter is bad for the industry, and by holding out, construction businesses put themselves in a position where they are unprepared for inevitable change. We already see products emerging that could force the industry to take the leap into a new era defined by digital technology. Much more work remains to be done until 3D and virtual reality become commonplace, and depends quite a bit on action to be taken by those inside the industry.  Some glaring concerns on the part of construction industry professionals when it comes to technology were illustrated by a study from Texas A&M published last year, which lists among it’s findings that although cloud-computing is becoming more widespread among contractors, proper security measures are not.

Alongside a need to mitigate risk, is a conservative attitude characteristic of many builders. In an industry where aversion to risk is paramount, seeing technology move through not just the communication and government sector, but entertainment and consumer goods, makes these innovations appear less relevant.  This is a current problem when it comes to Virtual Reality use in building and design, which could be overcome simply when the  technology becomes widely used, according to experts. When technology is allowed to prove itself as an invaluable business tool, that will go a long way to removing some of the stigma associated with some types of technology that may currently be viewed as a novelty. There can also be a tendency in the industry to view each new innovation as indicating a cumbersome overhaul.  At least in terms of Virtual Reality, the technology already exists and could potentially be worked into the professional setting, piece by piece.

Another obstacle to adopting technology in construction is the fact that on every level, the industry requires, at least currently, human labor.  The fact that technology has not yet mechanized the industry is what in effect also keeps further advancement at bay. Tech products must be easy to use by everyone who works in the industry in order to be effective and become a mainstay.

There in another trend is transforming the residential construction industry in particular, aside from technology, and that is demographics. Millenials are entering the housing market, but it’s not an easy transition for anyone. Young people are looking for affordability and convenience, and they also believe that if they invest a large sum of money into something, it has to reflect their needs and core values in very specific ways. For example, they might be more attracted to a smaller living space, as home maintenance activities fall low on their list of priorities.

With unprecedented access to information and resources, the younger sector of the population wants and is able to be more hands on than ever in every aspect of their lives. They want to participate more fully in creating their living environment. Millenials want a home that’s an accurate reflection of who they are. With access to technology and a deeper understanding of design elements, millenials have the potential to work very closely with builders to achieve their desired living goals. As demand for homes increases among Millenials, we could see the need for technology to become more urgent.

Technology has the potential to solve a lot of problems for the construction industry – it could reduce the need for labor at a time when the industry is experiencing a significant shortage, it could lower costs just as the housing market calls for more affordable new homes, it may allow for the customization young home-buyers are seeking. But we won’t know how quickly change is coming to an industry that is defined by tradition and is typically skeptical of new developments. We may need to see some practical applications and tangible results before a real transformation occurs.

Friday, March 18, 2016

5 Things To Know About How Current Technological Advancements Could Influence Driver Safety and Faciliate Autonomous Vehicles

When it comes to the technology we use in our cars and while driving, the goals for car manufacturers and software developers in 2016 are twofold – communication and safety. Although sometimes these seem to be at odds with each other, a lot of current developments are attempting to make that more and more a thing of the past. Distracted driving is not a new phenomenon but has become an increasingly more prevalent concern in the last decade because of cellular and smart phones. The temptation to use your phone behind the wheel is very strong. Some companies are creating products to counter it. But eliminating distraction caused by your mobile device is just one way safety goals can be met. Vehicle manufacturers are exploring new approaches to strengthen a car’s features, like the brakes, and others are making unprecedented strides in safety technology. Here are 5 important things you should know about how technology can potentially make you a safer driver, and what obstacles still must be overcome.

1.  Apps – The LifeSaver Distracted Driving App is an example of mobile technology that modifies your behavior while driving, by impeding your ability to use your phone. The app locks your phone while your car is moving. It’s aimed towards young/inexperienced drivers with features like text notifications to a designated party when the device is unlocked while the vehicle is in motion. However, it could potentially be used by anyone who wants to build better safety habits. The App’s simplicity makes it a useful tool to prevent distracted driving. Including parents or a spouse obstructs the ability to use a phone behind the wheel even further.

2. Vehicles that incorporate the “Internet of Things” – A important implication of driverless cars, whenever they eventually emerge, is that, at least in theory, automating personal vehicles will result in increased safety and a reduction in automobile collisions. Seemingly the first step in that direction is the rise of “smart”  autombiles. These are cars that can easily communicate with each other. Car manufacturers are now striking deals with wireless service providers that will allow their vehicles to be more connected to each other, as well as to the driver’s other devices. As cars are able to more and more “talk” to each other, it lays the foundation for an eventual autonomous vehicle system on our roads.
3. Not So Fast! – Rapid fire advancements in tech are now putting consumer trust in car manufacture’s at risk. Complaints about in-vehicle technology have been rising according to J.D. Power & Associates, and last year it was listed as the most prevalent issue affecting car owners. The reasoning for that increase is that new in-car tech is moving too quickly to ensure it’s viability, and in the mad dash for the next new thing consumers are inheriting features that are rife with problems. Most issues have to do with Bluetooth and GPS, which is an annoyance, but PROBABLY not life-threatening. The implication here is that for truly effective and lasting safety improvements, car companies will have to slow down their pace and focus on one significant  upgrade  at a time.
4. Not long from now, the vehicle itself could be your strongest ally in preventing distracted driving – While there are apps like the aforementioned LifeSaver that could keep you from reaching for your phone while behind the wheel, we could see that distraction-prevention system built in to the car itself in coming years. Manufacturers are testing a technology that could monitor your gaze and notify you if you avert your eyes from the road for an extended period of time.  This could be a harbinger of a possible future where your car and the other technology you own and use could work together much more closely.

5. Automatic Braking and the Driverless Revolution - We can now draw a parallel between safety improvements and companies inching towards autonomous vehicles, as we also see a trend of car manufacturers moving in the same direction as each other on a lot of these innovations. One more example of this is automatic braking systems – 6 years from now 99% of cars on the market in the United States will have one of these, per a commitment made by 20 car manufacturers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this is an important step on behalf of the auto makers, because if they didn’t come to the decision on their own, and instead waited for regulators to act, the process would take much longer. Manufacturers recognizing the importance of improving their vehicles’ safety features, and the impact that has on the evolution of personal vehicles, illustrates that we are truly experiencing a unique moment in the history of transportation.

Friday, March 11, 2016

What Do the Recent Developments Mean for California's High Speed Rail?

The California High Speed Rail has been making headlines lately, as certain developments and decisions have propelled it forward, while some ongoing hurdles still need to be overcome. This is after all a tremendous project which will most likely continue to face challenges even as construction work is executed. Many California residents have been and will be affected by the project, as it progresses through each stage. This will serve as an overview of where the project currently stands and what impacts we can expect to see from recent legal decisions as well as the work of the High Speed Rail Authority.  

The High Speed Rail Authority this week achieved an important victory when a Superior Court judge ruled in it’s favor in a lawsuit where opponents claimed current plans are in direct violation of the 2008 bond measure that set forth the parameters of the high speed rail project.

Although the overall sentiment regarding the high speed rail in California has been declining since voters approved the project in 2008,  it appears to have the backing of the state government as well as the courts. In the aforementioned case, plaintiffs claimed that because of significant changes and modifications,  the high speed rail in it’s current form has pivoted too far away from what voters approved in 2008. They argued that plans have been altered to such an extent that the project no longer aligned with  the initial cost, construction schedule, and the bullet train’s service once it’s built.   

In the 2008 bond act, important criteria were laid out for the building schedule of the various portions of the project, ultimately to span from Sacramento to San Diego, as well as the operation of the actual bullet train. Recent plans have the high speed rail sharing a track with a commuter train in Northern California, thereby increasing  expected travel time. Train service that fails to meet the required maximum travel time between certain points were specifically cited in the lawsuit. The judge however, stated in his ruling that nothing in the Bond Act precluded the High Speed Rail Authority from making changes that are necessary to facilitate the rail’s progress and that due to the dynamic nature of the project the Authority still has the opportunity to meet the Bond Act’s requirements.

At each step the high speed rail authority is re-evaluating and changing  plans, as unexpected challenges arise. This is perhaps most evident when it comes to  condemnation and land acquisition. In the San Joaquin Valley, the eminent domain process is taking much more time than anticipated. The process of negotiating with landowners, which can certainly be lengthy due to the complicated nature of eminent domain proceedings, is more protracted than the high speed rail authority counted on initially. Furthermore, as original plans for the rail have changed course, additional land acquisition has become necessary. According to the Fresno Bee, as of last month 668 properties of the 1,468 required for the project have been acquired by the High Speed Rail Authority.

The above-mentioned lawsuit held that a scenario where the High Speed Rail ran on the same tracks as a commuter train would be anathema to the service promised by the Bond Act.  It’s possible that the electrification of Caltrain, a commuter line that serves the Bay Area, could facilitate the construction of the High Speed Rail sooner in that region than expected.

Finally, a large engineering/infrastructure  corporation based in Spain, called Ferrovial, has cemented a deal to build a portion of the high speed rail located between Fresno and Bakersfield. Ferrovial will be carrying out construction and relocation work in an area spanning approximately 22 miles, and is expected to be completed by 2018.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

An Overview of Challenges and Possible Improvements to Pedestrian Safety in California

In California we’re seeing a lot of rapid changes in transportation. We’re a state that’s been shaped by personal vehicles, and automobiles still play a large role on our roads, but we’re seeing a transformation in terms of public transportation, ride share and even driverless technology. All of this creates new challenges for California citizens and authorities, not the least of which is regarding safety.  As the transportation landscape changes and more Californians are exploring alternatives to their personal vehicles, it’s important to take a look at pedestrian safety – what we’re seeing from law enforcement and transportation authorities and what rights and responsibilities pedestrians should be aware of.

It’s important to note that California has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths, a number that went up from 2013 to 2014. Although it’s not easy to specify one or two reasons that explain the rising number of pedestrian fatalities, we do know that following the rules of the road is an extremely important factor when it comes to reducing death and injury. This is evidenced by the fact that, according to the above-linked article, speed was a determining factor in whether a pedestrian would be fatally wounded in the collison.

Some communities are taking steps to address the high numbers of accidents and deaths involving pedestrians in California. This Friday in Thousand Oaks, expect the Ventura County Sheriff’s department to increase enforcement of road and moving violations in an effort to curtail pedestrian injuries. Highlighting the importance of safe and legal driving, as well as walking or bike-riding, law enforcement in this area will be closely monitoring drivers who disobey traffic laws by speeding, failing to stop and turn where required as well as pedestrians whose actions are dangerous and possibily illegal. Similar efforts are taking place in Santa Barbara, where more officers are patrolling in high-risk areas and taking increased measures to crack down on all traffic violations.

What responsibilities fall on the pedestrian? The California Vehicle Code (“CVC”) puts the onus on the driver to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of pedestrians, but CVC Section 21950 (b) also states:

“This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.”

Therefore, pedestrian behavior relative to areas where vehicles are tavelling can also be unlawful.

As noted above, while we know that traffic offenses could contribute to pedestrian injuries and fatalities, we don’t always know what more can be done to tak effective safety measures. Authorities are taking steps to address the underlying issues, particularly where there is a markedly high number of fatalities. Law enforcement agenices in San Diego were recently the recipients of a large grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety.  According to a statement made by a law enforcement officer in this San Diego Union-Tribune article, some of the grant funds could go towards a program that will help pinpoint the geographic areas where a majority of accidents take place, and then discover what makes these spots so dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

In addition to law enforcement agencies, pedestrian safety and accident reduction can naturally also be address with engineering projects. In Los Angeles areas with a high amount of pedestrian traffic we may find what are known as scramble crossings, such as the nearly dozen new ones expected to appear in Santa Monica this spring. Scramble crosswalks, also known as pedestrian scrambles, facilitate pedestrians to cross intersections diagonolly in addition to the standard crosswalks which form right angles. Urban planners and engineers could pivot more towards pedestrian-friendly projects such as these to accommodate rising modes of alternative transporation.