Did You Say Big Data?

Data is the new gold standard. Today, all information has become digital (and sharable), and this is only the beginning.

We wear clothes that capture our body temperature, our heart rate and the number of steps we walk. We are building self-driving cars that use sensors and GPS to navigate. We are designing rail stations and tunnels using laser scanning and Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology. Throughout it all, we are gathering information of all kinds, both online and offline, to better understand and work with the world we live in.

This is one of the projects that WSP’s team in Sweden has been working on over the past few years: data gathering. There, Patrik Karlsson, a GIS specialist, has developed a modular and expandable system called Voodoo that is simultaneously collecting information from hundreds of different sources across the country.

The question becomes, however, what to do with 15,000 air quality observations in Gothenburg, in Sweden? With 62,000 water level measurements of lakes and rivers, all around Gothenburg? With 108,000 roadworks and incidents records, we put together for the Swedish Transport Administration? What about the 39 million weather observations we’ve gathered from 800 monitoring stations?

“When you add value to the data-gathering effort, that’s where it gets interesting,” says Mats Önner, Leader of the Global Asset Management practice at WSP.

In Singapore, his team used Geotracker, a proprietary vehicle equipped with cameras, sensors, and other mobile mapping technologies to capture information on the mass rapid transit system of the city-state. “The project’s objective was to assess the condition of the network and prepare an advanced degradation modelling in order to optimize asset management,” explained M. Önner.

Data = Money

As a part of its gathering efforts, our Swedish team have also compiled tons of data on train operations. As of February 2017, we have measured:

  • 820,000 Train Registrations

  • 5,600,000 Carriage Registrations

  • 15,000,000 Axis Registrations

  • 44,800,000 Wheel Registrations

  • 3,700 Wheel Warnings

  • 4,600,000 Wheel Damage Measurements 

  • 41,000,000 Overheating Measurements

  • 21,500,000 Passing Trains, Recorded at 1,876 Different Interchanges

The amount of data collected is continuing to increase daily.

“We are comparing this satellite imagery, train traffic condition, wheel temperature, breaks pressure, etc., to see how it all interrelates,” says Patrik Karlsson.

Gianluca Barletta, Head of Smart Consulting at WSP takes it one step further: “when investing millions of dollars in a new development, you want to ensure your money is being well spent. Capturing and analyzing data is fundamental,” he points out.

Big Data in Cities

Understanding the big picture is a complex undertaking. “Now, we have a comprehensive tool that works with our 100 years of experience,” says Thomas Coleman, Innovation and Technology Manager at WSP in the US.

Our teams have mapped hundreds of city projects across the world, to best offer the best advice to city officials about urban planning, to help them understand the movement of freight in order to improve their transportation network. In Chicago, Coleman used modelling to analyze the potential expansion of the rail line, from the airport to downtown. “We integrate alternative routes, station and all, in order to understand the impact and suggest the best choice based on the data.”

For him, one of the main benefits of today’s plethora of digital information is that it enhances our decision-making capability. “Before, you had to wait at the end of a project to see the big picture. Now, we can make more assumptions straight from the start. We have the tools and the process to understand and analyze different impacts right at the beginning,” explains Coleman.

Using data to make better decision is not new: we’ve always interpreted and analyzed all available resources. Now, however, it’s getting deeper and faster, which changes the way we work… for the better.