Technology Report 2022

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Pace of Technology Innovation

The speed of technology adoption and implementation continues to be both an opportunity and barrier when considering the future of damage prevention. Many applicable technologies exist, and are used in other industries, but have not been funded fully and/or adopted widely in the damage prevention industry due to a variety of factors.

The damage prevention industry is not alone in confronting this challenge and can look to other industries for perspective, reflection and inspiration in considering the future of damage prevention technology. One well-documented theory known as “Moore’s Law” states that while we can expect the speed and capability of our computers to increase exponentially every couple of years, the cost will continue to decrease over time. Although some variations exist in the how this theory applies, it has largely played out as Moore described.   

One way to illustrate this concept is to look at the cost of computer hardware per floating points of operation per second (FLOPS) which is a measure of computer performance. Figure 3 below shows the hardware cost per GFLOPS (adding “G” for “giga”) over time in constant 2021 dollars.

Figure 3 – Hardware cost per GFLOPS over time

The general concept of Moore’s law can be seen when looking at damage prevention technology implementation over time. The industry continues to see more compact electromagnetic locating devices with more powerful features. Most 811 centers now receive the majority of their incoming notices electronically rather than by telephone and can support electronic white-lining and automated/enhanced positive response systems. Powerful computing devices can now be carried in our pockets, and we can connect to satellites and map our location in real time with the ability to transfer information almost immediately. 

Recent technology advancements are also allowing for enhanced features in buried facility detection and mapping hardware. Hardware can now be mounted on drones and land-based vehicles and can interact with GPS/GNSS satellites to pinpoint the location of buried utilities. This includes finding abandoned lines which are a vexing issue in the industry. 

A respondent to the June 2022 survey suggested the following:

“A futuristic (outside the box) thought would be to invent / develop a drone / smart pothole device that could automatically excavate using (vacuum or digging equipment) that uses the latest type sensors (thermal, GPR, etc.) that would slowly unearth soil / asphalt, expose underground utility lines and would not damage them. Think of it as Star Trek in the 70's... who would have ever imagined we'd have smart phones 40 + years later.”

Yes, that would be fantastic. Technology continues to evolve rapidly, and implementation costs will continue to decrease. As stakeholders look to the future, it is important to consider that some technology advancements may be closer and more accessible than they appear.

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