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Lila Tachtsi
20 Mar 2017

Data is valuable, it’s the new currency. In many sectors, including transport, it becomes invaluable when it is gathered, analysed and transformed into operational and business intelligence. And now there is a great potential for doing so in real-time, offering even bigger opportunities for the travel experience. It’s how we use data that will inform and influence the design of our future cities.

We have released a white paper that considers how we can use insights from big data to influence strategic decision-making and user behaviour.

As well as adding extra network capacity and delivering a better customer experience, big data presents an incredible opportunity to influence people’s behaviour, offering travellers with smarter and more sustainable transport choices.

For example, in a world of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), we can gather data that will inform us about the condition of the transport network, traveller and vehicle behaviour, usage peaks and troughs, the design and operation of towns and cities, and social trends. The maximum value of collaborative CAVs will only be possible with shared ownership and better planned urban networks.

Atkins is currently expanding its use of big data to include mobile phone data, GPS data and a wide range of maintained data assets and connected sensors. This helps us to plan and design future services, quickly address any issues on the network, inform customers of disruptions, travel updates and much more. This is just the tip of what is possible.  We have a growing portfolio of big data insight projects based on more generic and well-maintained data sources, and built on data analytics platforms that can automate common analysis, which enables substantial productivity and quality improvements. 

Using big data insight, we will be able to encourage and incentivise users of the transport system to move closer to their workplace and popular facilities, as well as to more sustainable transport and urban environments. Contemporary planning will help ensure we have the right travel alternatives in the right place and at the right time, making these long term choices attractive.

So what do we need to do now?

  • We need to increase the ‘velocity’ of traditional data analytics from what might be several weeks to a matter of minutes, with big data enabling new forms of algorithms and models to be trained and applied on accelerated computer systems.
  • We need to find a way to ensure data can be shared seamlessly across systems and sectors so we can maximise the benefits of big data for society as a whole.
  • We need to show the general public the benefits that sharing data can have so public opinion can shift and we can better improve people’s lives and journeys through having access to the bigger picture.

By capturing data and applying scenario planning, we can chart our route towards a more connected, automated and data-driven future, and a better passenger experience for us all.

To read the full study click here. To find out more about intelligent mobility from Atkins, visit our hub and join our LinkedIn group.

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UK & Europe, Group, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World,

Roger Cruickshank
19 Dec 2016

Only last week the headline ‘look no hands’ was pasted across a Dubai newspaper, confirming that a car had driven the 100 km journey itself between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Maybe the introduction of mainstream driverless cars isn’t too far off after all.  Dubai actually already has the longest Connected and Autonomous vehicle (CAV), in the form of its Metro, which has been running with ‘no hands’ since 2009.  And those in the taxi business might say that the ability to order and direct a vehicle  is a proxy CAV; the International Road Transport Union (IRU)  recently revealed that their UpTop scheme (bringing global taxi apps onto one platform) has attracted more than double the number of vehicles using Uber.

The notion of driverless is not new: besides several metros around the world, driverless lifts and elevators have been around for decades, as has the autopilot button that gets pressed when we fly across the globe. We’ve in fact been using driverless transport for years with a strong safety record. 

But CAVs (and their offshoots) are likely to have a greater impact than the first jet airliners of the early 1960s.  At Atkins, a design, engineering and project management consultancy, we consider that this new means of travel and the data generated by its introduction, will touch every part of the built environment - a real eye opener.  We are ourselves leading the UK development of an independent test site for, and a market leading capability in, autonomous vehicles, investigating the legal and insurance aspects of driverless cars and exploring how the public react to such vehicles. The programme will help to deepen our understanding of the impact on road users and wider society and open up new opportunities for our economy and society.

We also have teams of people around the world looking into connecting people, places and services and reimagining infrastructure across all transport modes, enabled by data, technology and innovative ideas. Intelligent mobility (iM) looks into new ways of travelling that will transform people's journeys and the movement of goods, with efficiency, sustainability and safety of our transport systems and cities worldwide paramount.

In America, our colleagues are seeing some real challenges around the need for a consistent approach to CAV introduction.  At the moment US Federal law is somewhat ambivalent on CAV roll out, principles have been set at a national level – make it safe, protect data -  yet it is leaving individual states to figure out the real details with regards to the planning, design and the implementation of CAVs into urban transport systems.  Such detail will vary from state to state, possibly confusing motorists, manufacturers and operators alike.  However it is exciting to know that most states are reviewing their existing transport infrastructure inventories, with a view embracing the change and the hope of controlling and reprioritising infrastructure spend in parallel. This in part of course is due to the Governance system that prevails in the US.  The UK’s more inclusive approach on CAVs is an exemplar, bringing public and private entities feeding off a wealth of ideas through a broad institutional framework.

What about the all that extra free time we will now have inside the car, as we will be relieved from manhandling the steering wheel?   It is possible that people might starting literally living in their cars, the impacts of which could be far ranging for city planning both in terms of land development/housing stock as well as the services required to manage these nomadic drivers  - (could this really happen?)  This just highlights that it isn’t only the technology but a major social change that is likely to take place.  So I offer are we ‘giving up control’ and are we also giving up on the community as we sit in our individual pods with internet and all else on tap?

For me personally, I can’t wait to be motoring down a fogbound expressway, knowing that we are all travelling at the same safe speed, and arriving at work much less agitated having had extra time to prepare for that critical meeting: the one proviso being that there is sufficient resilience/security in the system to indeed ensure that traffic is controlled effectively and safely. 


This article first appeared on IoT Tech News.

To find out more about intelligent mobility from Atkins, visit our hub

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Middle East & Africa, North America, UK & Europe,

Donna Huey
01 Sep 2016

A perfect storm of risks threatens even the simplest of resiliency goals. There are key dangers to pay attention to while evaluating the relevance of context, contracting, and people as critical factors to achieve goals.

Starting with natural risks, resiliency is how vulnerable one is to hazards—understanding what the pattern or intensity of those hazards is, the response time, and how one can recover. There has been an 80 percent increase in the growth of climate-related disasters between 1980 and 2009. In 29 years, losses have doubled because of disaster. The increasing densities of urban centers, particularly in coastal cities, only push the limit of property and human losses. Even when attributing some of the loss increases to improved reporting, scientists argue two-thirds of the increase is ‘real.’ Certainly, if one were to dispute the increase in frequency, it would still be clear the rising costs are related to increased density in urban centers..

The key challenges of infrastructure risk include:

• adequately maintained structures;
• the pace of technology and new material adoption to improve asset life and performance; and
• prioritizing maintenance or recovery plans based on risk and life line analysis.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2013, Report Card for America’s Infrastructure estimates the need for $3.6 trillion to raise our infrastructure to acceptable standards. Further, ASCE’s 2015 Report Card for New York’s Infrastructure showed only modest improvements with roads, bridges, and wastewater still reflecting ‘D’ grades.

Another risk to consider involves cyber security. Recent reports predict in the next five years a move from four billion to 30 billion in Internet-connected devices, with a trillion sensors emerging by 2022. Considering the prevalence of personal credit card hacks and identity theft, it is certainly within the realm of possibility there may be a data hack on a smart building or intelligent transport system. In 2014, many in the infrastructure community took careful note of the widely publicized study by Cesar Cerrudo on vulnerability of smart cities. Field tests have shown exposure to traffic sensors in several U.S. cities—couple this with a growing popularity of games and popular products.

A multi-variable problem

Problems arise while in isolation, but together the challenges become a multi-variable problem and infinitely more complex. Having personally worked in the IT side of the infrastructure industry for over 25 years, this author has become familiar with the use of systems’ engineering principles and progressive assurance to protect people from these multi-variable problems—testing individual pieces of hardware or code independently before connecting them together.

However, when the time comes to design or redevelop infrastructure, the luxury of a controlled setting is not always possible. Assumptions need to be made and the interdependencies of these variables must be modeled—it is the real-life, natural elements that will tell the true story of a successful design. Thus, the most important variable to be considered is people. Humans will use and interact with the infrastructure in the environment.

As a result, it is important to evaluate these multi-variable problems with a respect for context—taking into account economic risk, social risk, and the maturity of the community in place to maintain and sustain. To better understand, one can analyze the exponential increase of sensors. The devices come in many shapes and sizes and some can even generate their own power. They are helping designers and engineers understand how their designs are performing—a new live feedback loop has been created because the infrastructure can now ‘talk.’

For example, a new bridge structure loaded up with sensors can tell the operator everything from vibration to loads to wear and tear. Bridges in Atlanta or New York would be connected to servers with teams of people in well-staffed agencies or top-notch consultants evaluating, managing, and leveraging data to optimize maintenance, improve safety, and develop improved designs. Incoming data would feed decision support systems or asset management systems generating predictions, and automating work orders—a great example of making the best of all new technology has to offer.

However, imagine the same bridge in a rural town struggling to make ends meet, with barely enough staff to keep up with the basic needs. How can it take advantage of all this and not be left behind? What about in a developing country? The context in which this bridge sits becomes vitally important. The bridge in the urban setting is quickly integrated into the system of systems. Except in the rural setting, if the data being generated lacks a person or system to interpret or leverage it, there is no meaning to derive, no predictions to be made—would this just be a colossal waste of money? Such a perceived waste can be avoided if the context is evaluated early in the conceptual design stage.

Assuming in each instance somebody is looking to achieve similar levels of resiliency leveraging the latest technology, the context requires different methods of implementation. In the case of the rural location, it means contracting remote monitoring and support; in the case of the developing country, it means perhaps simply the ability to apply the learning derived from similar sensor-laden bridges in other parts of the world. In both instances, when context is considered, operators can still obtain valuable intelligence to ensure future designs are more sustainable.

In the end, the data is generally only as good as the team or system that can interpret the data and leverage it for continuous improvement. It is important people do not become lulled into complacency with respect to technology and allow smart infrastructure make them inferior. These improvements can be readily shared so all stakeholders, regardless of context, improve their infrastructure investment and design decisions. The key is treat the whole patient—step back and understand the context, before trying to devise and implement a more sustainable solution.

Next-generation contracting

In the previous bridge example, considerations are referenced for new methods of contracting in ways that will help cities less-equipped take advantage of technological advancements. This is the tip of the iceberg as it relates to how interdependencies and new technologies could influence planning and contracting in the industry.

As new technology helps improve resiliency decision-making and funding constraints lead to new ways to extend life or lower life cycle costs of assets, we are rapidly seeing changes in our delivery methods. Owners are taking a step back and starting to look at the bigger picture. There is a rise in public-private partnerships (P3) an increasing prominence of Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), and many new terms and conditions in infrastructure design and construction contracts addressing shared risk.

In the midst of the merging of physical and virtual worlds, evidence of new relationships are forming in the supply chain as well. Traditional engineering firms are finding new partners—more collaboration with large IT and system integration companies, more partnerships with financial firms and banks, and learning how to drive more progressive relationships with contractors on much larger scales.

All these new relationships and contracting methods invoke a new line of questioning or self-reflection for many traditional design and engineering firms with respect to their position or ‘fit’ in this evolving supply chain. It is truly imperative for traditional design firms to complement this supply chain disruption with an equal level of disruption considering new ways of working, sparking ‘whole-systems thinking’ and embracing deep technological shifts in the industry.

When delving deeper into the fusing of the physical and virtual worlds, it is important to embrace these changes through a push to accelerate ‘digital engineering.’ Whether an individual leverages related terms such as building information modeling (BIM), this is about the automation of all or parts of the lifecycle of a built asset.

In the private sector, the infrastructure owner is more intensely driven by commercial returns and when he or she sees the clear return on investment (ROI) evidenced through the use of digital engineering and digital asset management, the owner understands and is able to quickly develop new requirements without complex government bureaucracy. The financial world sees it the same way. Lengthy concessionaire agreements on P3 contracts are about ensuring the commercial returns. The benefits of de-risking the ROI by proactive data management means second-guessing enforcement of contractual requirements on the lead designer not an option.

When examining the area of infrastructure resiliency, engineers can be leveraging BIM in more progressive ways, not just for obligatory contract requirements, but by becoming invested partners in driving that ROI—share in the reward, as much as the risk. Addressing level of detail and information in early phase models, BIM can be leveraged for management of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) compliance. Modeling and optimizing carbon and energy efficiency during concept stage will lead to material long-term operating cost reductions. Additionally, designers can leverage frameworks for sustainable return on investment, putting a value on green infrastructure and showcasing long-term benefits for maintenance cost and resiliency.

BIM and related digital engineering services are becoming more the norm. It will be imperative for the design and engineering community to step up and proactively guide how new technologies and research will be applied. Global standards organizations, such as the buildingSMART alliance and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), are accelerating involvement to drive these discussions. It is important these talks are infused with infrastructure domain expertise. The design and engineering community need to help make the technology better—truly a call to action for this industry to lead what many call the ‘fourth industrial revolution.’

Importance of people

People are the last, and most important point to understanding resilience and interdependency risks. Education is the best investment for resilience of future cities when it comes down to it. People inherently live in ‘silos’—it is human nature to gravitate toward what is familiar and trusted. Since interdependencies by their very nature require there to be interaction, what happens if people refuse to interact? Leave it to the computers to model these interactions and make the decisions accordingly?

Currently, there is more data than ever and it is impossible to comprehend what that data set will look like one or five years from now. What has become increasingly more important today for industries is society has learned to leverage this data and apply it to the next generation of designs. The data can also be leveraged as a means to bring people together—to break down silos and analyze a situation as a team, recognizing the interdependencies and people are now living in a connected system of systems. It does not help to connect the bits and bytes if people are not connected to make higher order decisions.


One of the most prevalent arenas where these silos are present are where cities are addressing impacts of climate change. Climate change does not pick a specific type of infrastructure or location or socio-economic faction. It cuts across and requires a coming together of disciplines and ideas to drive solutions.

In a recent project supporting climate change management in the Dominican Republic, results are drive by this author has observed that when discussions emphasize people-related aspects, building common interests, discussing experiences, learning from different perspectives, and most importantly, building the relationships that develop.

Many sources of data, tools, and technology will aid and facilitate the work of understanding interdependencies as it relates to resiliency. Data and tools are used to help tell a story, but the heart and soul of these efforts is the coming together of the diverse discipline leaders, evaluating together the interdependencies, sharing knowledge, and ensuring connections are established to other people and resources. These are skills that surpass data and technology, that need to be taught and encouraged. They are sometimes tough abilities for a lot of nuts and bolts engineers, but the development of these services in the industry is what will enable clear recognition of the interdependencies and truly drive resiliency.

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North America,

Richard Smith
09 Aug 2016

So who are the mystery men and women who design these services and make our buildings work? As the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) describe it ‘Building Services Engineering is all about making buildings meet the needs of the people who live and work in them’.

We used to be known as ‘M&E’ (mechanical & electrical) engineers and some parts of the world still know us as ‘MEP’ (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) or even ‘Electro-Mechanical’. So what do we call the millions of engineers worldwide that are involved with the engineering services within buildings? Things are converging and over time the world is coming around to building services as the term to describe our role.

Over the past 20 years, the complexity of the buildings and systems that building services engineers design and install has increased. Moreover, we find ourselves involved in a great deal more simulation of systems, buildings and internal environments to achieve sustainable, low impact and optimised spaces.

All of this has forced the requirement for more sub divisions within the building services sector. With more building services specialisms emerging, there is an increasing need for building services engineers – and their employers – to understand where their knowledge limitations lie, what specialists are needed for what work, and how different specialisms should collaborate and work together.

Those of us who practice as building services engineers soon realise that we can only achieve a high level of competence in some fields of building services. During our careers we tend to develop a deep capability in our chosen areas and a broad understanding of the other areas. However, while most of us understand the breakdown of building service specialisms to some extent, the definitions we have are rarely complete, are often from only one standpoint and vary from one source to another.

I believe we need a standard building services taxonomy and if possible, one that can work globally. A standard taxonomy would bring more rigour to our collective understanding of building services and a more consistent approach to collaborative working, skills analysis, career development, and knowledge and interface management. This sounds like a simple task but in practice it is surprisingly complex. At Atkins we are working on a four tier, skills related, building services taxonomy, illustrated in this pdf.

This diagram aims to cover building services and all of its sub-divisions. Although it is by no means exhaustive – and may never be, with the huge amount of change we continue to see in what we do and how we work – we believe it goes some way to providing the breakdown the industry needs to improve our understanding of everything building services covers. With a more detailed definition of what a building services engineer does, we can finally start to piece together, and describe to the rest of the industry, what the anatomy of a building services engineer really is.

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Middle East & Africa, UK & Europe,

Donna Huey
03 Jun 2016

Informed Infrastructure (II): Have you done more to formalize the Atkins approach to how you assist cities in coping with change?

Huey: We have. Most of our efforts have now been pulled into an updated value proposition for our customers that we call “stress testing,” where we’re looking at how to apply the process of evaluating different master-planning scenarios to validate the least-risk/highest-reward environment.

Cities have different goals. Some might be trying to just have economic stability, and some might be trying to address environmental issues. Whatever the goals or objectives are, the stress-testing process and some of the tools we’ve developed to support that are really the next generation of master planning. It’s come about in the last six to eight months.

II: Does it involve a bit of a scorecard or report card on how well cities are doing now?

Huey: We typically start the process with a report card, because many cities still need that high-level assessment of where they stand today. We start with a look at key issues and giving them a good baseline. Then that report card forms the basis for collecting feedback from stakeholders on potential solutions. You have all the challenges, and you also have opportunities. When you put those together, then we can look for what the right solutions are. Solutions form a plan, and you can have a number of variations of that plan. Each one of those variations could potentially produce different results.

So we start with a report card, and then we go into the assessment and end up in a handful of scenarios that we use in a workshop process and stress test.

II: Resilience is a buzzword now. In my observations, the coastal cities seem to be more motivated given threats from sea-level rise. What are you seeing in terms of drivers for this next-generation master planning, and are there any stand-out motivators for cities?

Huey: There’s a lot of new interest embodied in the term resilience in respect to cyber. We are seeing that swiftly emerging as a pillar under the resilience heading. You have environmental, socioeconomic and climate-change issues. With cyber resilience, you’re not just protecting your natural environment and infrastructure, but you’re also protecting from cyber attacks as well.

II: That ties into our more-connected infrastructure. I know there have been some attacks on dams and other critical infrastructure.

Huey: It’s pretty scary. It’s great that the infrastructure can talk to each other and talk to us, and we can even answer each other. The move toward self-healing materials and networks is coming along. But it’s all pretty vulnerable to attack. I think the amount we don’t know with respect to our vulnerabilities is what’s scariest for owners and operators.

II: What types of tools are you employing? The last time we spoke, we touched on BIM and its evolution to become an asset-management tool. Does much of your work involve the integration of BIM and other data feeds like GIS to provide a better understanding?

Huey: This is still a struggle for many of our clients. There are a lot of good products out there, so when we engage with our clients, the software product mixture differs. Usually the benefits and outcomes these systems are driving toward are similar. Our focus and methodology puts the data at the logical center and builds around those data.

We’re doing some projects that we call Scan to BIM and BIM to AIM. Scan to BIM really helps our clients capture as-built asset information with advanced laser-scanning technologies and drones. That feeds straight into a BIM model that can be attributed with asset information.

There’s some good work that we’ve done recently with Heathrow Airport in a tunnel system. This Scan to BIM project helped them tag assets with attribute information for operations and maintenance.

We did another interesting Scan to BIM project for slightly different outcomes in Miami with a large private developer. They were putting a building in adjacent to a Metro station and had to capture all the intricacies of designing around that. The scanning was able to go straight into a BIM model, which then directly informed the design. It significantly impacted not only the speed of the analysis, but it also allowed them to discover conflicts very early in the process to save time and money.

On the BIM to AIM side, that market is still maturing, and one of the things that we’ve recognized is a lack of demonstrable examples that exist in our infrastructure industry that are proving the results. We’ve started launching some of our own internal proof-of-concept projects.

For example, one of our office locations in need of a new floor fit out. We’re taking it upon ourselves to do the entire BIM design with a progression to an Asset Information Model that can be turned over to the operator for optimizing the energy efficiency and maintenance on the building.

There is a lot going in the integration space as we can better realize this data continuum across the whole of the project life cycle. It’s always been a passion of mine to see this data continuum persist and drive value.

Read the full interview on Informed Infrastructure

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North America,

Anne Kemp
09 Dec 2015

I recently helped to edit a new report, the Association of Geographic Information (AGI) Foresight Report 2020, and what came across over and over again was how crucial one community will be in helping us understand, analyse and manage this huge influx of data: the geospatial community.

So what is geospatial? In the simplest terms, geospatial specialists gather, display and manipulate information that has a location attached to it, from an address or coordinates from a GPS. However, there is far more to geospatial than just creating maps. For geospatial practitioners, it’s always been about data, what you do with it and what outcomes you can provide.

We need to sift through a huge amount of noise now to find the information we need to make good decisions, and the geospatial community can help us do it. Geospatial analysis can help us to visualise patterns of information, create better understanding and dialogue, and make more informed decisions.

The AGI Foresight Report 2020 looks at the big issues for our industry, not only big data but things like smart cities, UAVs and BIM. With over 60 papers, I’d suggest as a starter you check out the papers from Robert Eliot at the National Physical Laboratory on Big Data and the Internet of Things (p103), Jim Plume of UNSW Australia & Building SMART on Integrating Digitally-Enabled Environment - The Internet of Places (p207) and Mark King at Leica Geosystems on SIM Cities - why BIM and GIS fit together (p157). And of course the papers from my other Atkins colleagues:

  • Jérôme Chamfray, BIM manager, David Wright, practice director & Simon Miles, principal geotechnical consultant, BIM for the sub-surface challenges (p73)
  • Geoff Darch, principle consultant, Big data in future proofing cities (p95)
  • Barry Hall (principle GIS consultant) To CAD or not to CAD? That is the question (p129)

Sadly in reading all of these great papers, it became clear to me that while the idea of “location” is more widely used than ever (mostly thanks to mobile devices), the term “geospatial” is still pretty niche. Hopefully the report can go some way towards changing this, and helping us recognise the important role the geospatial industry can play in our future. With over 2,100 downloads in the first fortnight since its release, I think we’re well on our way…

You can read the full AGI Foresight Report 2020 here.  

References: IBM and Forbes

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Asia Pacific, Group, Middle East & Africa, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Roger Cruickshank
01 Oct 2015

When Masdar took on the idea of driverless pods for its zero carbon city in Abu Dhabi, it still seemed closer to the cartoon world of The Jetsons than something that would be hitting our streets anytime soon.

Technology moves at an incredible pace, however, and it is rapidly catching up to make the idea of driverless vehicles a reality. Major automotive manufacturers are now investing serious money to keep at the head of the herd (or at least to be in the race!), while tech giant Google and taxi-hailing app Uber are blazing their own trails.

The Middle East, where gas-guzzling 4x4s are still the vehicle of choice among many, seems unlikely territory for what we now call Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) to take off. There are, however, some compelling reasons to suggest the region could be among the early adopters.

First among these is the fact that some environments are particularly well suited to CAVs. Yes, eventually we’re going to see driverless vehicles on our public roads and highways but in the meantime, one of the most practical applications for them could be in and around major airports.

The traffic within airports is closely monitored, regulated and predictable. What’s more, there’s a surprising amount of it; just think of all the servicing needs for fuel, maintenance, catering, baggage, staff and so on – this is an ideal environment for CAVs. Inside terminals too, they could be applied for basic small-scale transportation needs.

The UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are all home to, or in the process of developing, among the largest and most advanced airports in the world. It’s not difficult, therefore, to see why the Middle East could be at the forefront of investing in CAV technologies.

The region’s property developers are also sure to see the value of CAVs for the typical semi-closed and controlled private developments which are prevalent. The CAV concept offers an attractive, futuristic selling point, but more importantly it has the potential to reduce traffic impact to provide a better, cleaner and safer living environment. It may also allow infrastructure (and associated cost) to be reduced in size, so the benefits are impressive.

I’ve just mentioned the value of improved safety that driverless vehicles offer, and longer term this is likely to be a key reason for bringing CAVs onto public roads in the region. Human error is commonly cited to be responsible for between 80-90% of road accidents. What easier way, then, to slash the number of crashes than by simply taking humans out of the equation?

This would go hand in hand with the ambitions of regional governments to be at the forefront of creating smarter, more resilient and sustainable cities of the future. Integration of state-of-the-art driverless vehicles is part of this vision and will happen.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has already commissioned studies into not only CAVs, but electric vehicles as well, as part of its wider smart city agenda. Expo 2020 could be an ideal platform for sharing ideas and inspiration with the rest of the world – let’s not forget that Dubai is already a leader in adopting driverless technology thanks to its metro, which was designed to be driverless from the outset.

The region will, of course, face many of the same barriers and challenges to CAV deployment as others. Governments will need to review and adapt public policies and regulations, change traffic laws and set clear technical standards. Of key importance will be the need to bring different stakeholders together to work collaboratively towards the same goals.

So while embracing CAVs in the Middle East is not without its challenges – including the need to encourage people to park up their beloved V8s – I wouldn’t bet against cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha or Riyadh being among the first to take the technology mainstream. And in the meantime, Masdar’s early foray into driverless pods looks to have been impressively prescient.

> To continue the discussion on Intelligent Mobility, please join our dedicated LinkedIn Group

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Middle East & Africa,

Donna Huey
11 Aug 2015

As Building Information Modeling (BIM) continues to reveal opportunities for revolutionizing the engineering and design industry, we are still seeing challenges around adoption. Many organizations have managed to sort out ways to leverage BIM in pockets such as 3D- and 4D- visualizations, conflict detection in multi-discipline design, or even augmented reality in construction. But the capability of the technology today is already so far beyond that. So why is there a lag?

The design and construction industry has historically been slow to exploit new technology. Perhaps there is a lack of know-how, or far more likely, a bit of fear around change and how it (and we) fit in. The recent Harvard Business Review article, Beyond Automation—which discusses how to protect your career from the growing threat of computer automation—got me thinking more about the gap between today’s reality and tomorrow’s potential.

Automation starts with a baseline of what people do in a given job and subtracts from that. It deploys computers to chip away at the tasks humans perform as soon as those tasks can be codified … Augmentation, in contrast, means starting with what humans do today and figuring out how that work could be deepened rather than diminished by a greater use of machines.”
– Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby, Harvard Business Review

The article struck me as a means to generate a roadmap and illustrate “how” to engage with BIM from wherever you sit within an organization. It correlates to how we can drive a view of BIM as an augmentation to the traditional mindset. We should partner with technology to drive new methods, approaches and, of course, solutions. And only when all stakeholder groups engage will we achieve the full potential of BIM and its underlying technologies. So I’ve adapted the Harvard Business Review authors’ original 5 paths to the following:

Five paths toward achieving BIM’s potential

People have alternatives for how they’ll work with BIM:

  1. Step up. This is for the big picture thinkers. Whether you have invested heavily in BIM already or are simply at the top of the pack when it comes to world class design solutions—we need leaders that will step up and drive the industry. If you are a business manager this might mean doubling-down on your investments—adding new hires and advancing research and development. If you are a technical leader this means greater engagement in thought leadership and investing in greater professional organization involvement. I would further suggest that those who step up must be ready to partner. No single organization can own this—our big picture thinkers will need to collaborate to push BIM’s limits.
  2. Step around. These are the people who aren’t BIM experts, but get what’s happening (although their thoughts around BIM are more abstract). There is value in this role too. Their expertise may be in a supporting role such as human resources, learning and development, legal, commercial real estate, and others. BIM will generate new interactions and training demands, requiring interpretation and understanding of emerging business risks and needs. Those who play along the sidelines to integrate BIM will be invaluable. So these guys shouldn’t shy away, but instead they need to get involved, raise their hands and volunteer their ideas.
  3. Step in. These are “the doers,” the practitioners who have had their arms around this for quite some time and have been waiting for the rest of the industry to catch up. Now is the time to step in fully and push the rest of us toward what you know is the technology’s full potential. Be bold and don’t hold back. Breakthroughs are inches away. Expand beyond your immediate circles and get involved with your peers to make potential a reality. Consistent small steps toward the goal will result in giant leaps for the industry.
  4. Step narrowly. These are the guys that have been watching from the sideline for a while and they get it, but they see potential in a very niche area. Perhaps their ideas are related to sustainability, asset management, or even additive manufacturing. Now is your time. Build a unique application of BIM technology and show it off—most importantly, show off the return on investment. Most industries are facing an expensive proposition to fully adopt, so the greater evidence of the return, the easier to generate up front investment.
  5. Step forward. Innovators unite. This space is all yours. We need those who can see over the horizon and inspire the rest of the pack. Digital engineering is the new frontier, and as we deconstruct plans and specs into bits and bytes what new theories will unfold? What new means and methods are available to us that we didn’t see before? Dream big and innovate—we’ll all be better for it.

So where do you fit in and what steps can you take? How can the use of this technology deepen our abilities rather than diminish us? How can it make the big thinkers think bigger, the supporting services better support, the doer’s better do, the niche developers find their niche, and the innovators find new ideas? I’m looking forward to finding out together.

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Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Anne Kemp
27 May 2015

A recent contractor survey (paywall) in Construction News has revealed a lack of understanding from subcontractors is the main factor holding back the development of BIM Level 2. There is no doubt that getting a whole industry to change the way it delivers its projects was never going to be easy. And when you consider this involves a different way of thinking, with a shift away from a dependency on documents and drawings, towards a data-centric approach enabled by digital technologies, it’s clear that it will be tough.

BIM levels
Building information modelling (BIM) utilises information-rich models through collaborative working processes in order to improve the quality of information provided at the design and construction phases to save costs by eliminating waste. In 2008 a diagram was developed based on the different maturity levels of BIM. This was then used to establish what standards and practices needed to be developed / updated to allow each maturity level to be adopted. The current focus of the industry is to adopt maturity level 2. By 2016 all Government procured assets will have to achieve BIM Level 2. (Source:

But that’s not an excuse to shy away from it. Especially when the digital economy is rapidly impacting every part of our lives, indicated by our dependency on our smart phones, and our increased expectation of how we are treated personally as customers, with better information, and a more responsive, integrated service. It cannot escape our attention that we have to transform how we deliver and then manage infrastructure to enable this to happen.

We are lucky that, in the UK, the Government has been brave enough to undertake a comprehensive programme to upskill its central government departments to become intelligent procurers of digital information – making the digital asset as important as the physical asset. And aiming for this digital asset to be consistent across the UK estate so that all departments can share – and trust – each other’s data. Just think of the consequences of that. For the moment, because of this central pull, we are the envy of the world, and other countries, including Germany, Scandinavia, France, Singapore and Australia, are keen to emulate the programme. Strategic planning, integration and running of the UK infrastructure could actually become an achievable aspiration.

But, the industry as a whole has to lean into the challenge. Can you imagine if Ordnance Survey was able to host near-real time data of our surroundings, which we could all view on our smart phones, in the same way that we take Google Maps for granted today. Just imagine if our underground buried assets could all be viewed – accurately and reliably – in three dimensions from a mobile device, within a gaming environment familiar and engaging to those brought up on Xbox, PlayStation – but shifting already to embrace the virtual reality of Oculus Rift and the holograms of Microsoft HoloLens… who says that the construction industry cannot attract the younger generations to help create a better world?

One of the things that bothers me about the results of this survey is the apparent continuation of the “blame” culture – the reason for the slow progress being pushed on sub-contractors and clients. What is so important is that the UK initiative is very much about endeavouring to encourage and enable the client and each tier in the supply chain to take responsibility and help the level below upskill – not least by being very specific about what they are asking for, and working out together, how and who should deliver this. It is so important that we each take responsibility for embracing and enabling the change – supporting each other as individuals, across teams, and across organisations. It is no accident that BIM Level 2 is described as a collaborative approach. When the responses to industry surveys reflect this, we will know we are well on the way. But this is a journey for a whole industry… and changing measures of success to how much an organisation is helping others on the journey, doesn’t necessarily come easily to an industry built on competitive advantage.

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UK & Europe,

Richard Smith
07 May 2015

Eye catching press headlines like those about Vancouver and China provide readers with hope that we will be able to reduce our carbon emissions to target levels through the use of renewable energy sources. However, it is not quite that straightforward and emission reduction strategies vary immensely for different global locations.

Take Vancouver for instance, where as a consequence of its mountainous terrain and high rainfall the majority of its energy is already provided by affordable, carbon neutral hydro-electric sources that can easily store energy and meet the fluctuating demand profile. To achieve their future goals it’s about adding more hydro-electric and a modicum for wind, bio-mass and tidal and maybe some geothermal renewable sources.

Another simple example is the deserts of the world where solar power plants are possible and less than 3% of their global potential is needed to power the planet. To put this into context, a solar plant the size of Lake Nasser in Egypt would produce the same amount of energy as that produced by the oil industry in the Middle East. But, it is not that simple, because there are unresolved issues with affordability, energy storage and transmission.

The United Kingdom has shown great leadership and was the first nation to pass primary legislation requiring carbon emissions to be reduced. Presently the UK is on target to produce 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 and has an 80% emission reduction target for 2050, against a backdrop of population increase, improving quality of life and increased personal travel.

The UK emission reduction strategy beyond 2020 has not been established because it is too difficult to do at this stage. Unlike say the mountainous and desert locations that have an abundance of the right natural resources needed by renewables, the UK and Europe rely irregular God given forces of wind, sun and wave to power renewables that do not coincide with the demand profile and this makes it a much harder problem to solve. Flexible alternatives like bio-fuels will be utilised but the feedstocks for these are massive and is severely limited by available arable land. The UK is currently considering over 40 emission reduction strategies with each impacting on the other to some extent and DECC have produced an award winning tool that allows anyone to speculate on the emission reduction mix and understand the complexities involved. The tool included examples of how the target may be achieved by organisations like The National Grid, Friends of the Earth and Atkins.

Reducing energy demand costs a great deal less that the procurement of green energy sources, so the UK and Europe have set a high priority on energy efficiency and for example this is enshrined in the new building regulations that require zero carbon housing by 2016 and all other buildings by 2019. Several other government incentive schemes to improve efficiency of existing building stock have been introduced and this is expected to gather momentum in the next decade.

China has a similar challenges to that of Europe definitely no silver bullet solution for emission reduction. They are running many emission reduction initiatives and fairly extensive research and development in this respect the Quartz headline is significant and shows leadership.

The low emission transportation challenge is not so different the world over and universally we will see an increase in electrically powered public transport systems and pressure to reduce private automobile mileage. All automobile manufacturers are running hydrogen fuel cell, and ‘plug in’ electrical development programmes but achieving targets relies on a technological breakthrough in battery technology or hydrogen production avoiding an energy intensive processes where at present, four times the amount of energy of that contained in hydrogen is required to create the hydrogen. Recently there was a Daily Mail headline that claims such a breakthrough has been achieved by Bath and Yale Universities. If so, this will provide us all with great confidence in our future because it will be able to solve the transportation emission issue and provide an energy storage solution that can be used in tandem with the variable renewable sources.

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UK & Europe,

Roger Cruickshank
02 Apr 2015

The Middle East has seen a quantum leap in transportation in the last decade and, inevitably, technology is really pushing this advance.

The region is still in a development phase, which puts us in the fantastic position of not being encumbered with legacy infrastructure and systems. There’s also much less bureaucracy around project definition and development – so new projects and programmes can go straight from Royal Decree to delivery.

Of course, that’s not always a positive thing and there’s a lot to be said for the careful planning and legal processes of advanced economies. However, technology moves at a startling pace and the Middle East is better placed than most parts of the world to be an early adopter of new systems.

Transport authorities in the UAE and Qatar, in particular, are making technology and smart systems a key component of their investment plans. They have the funding and platforms to be able to buy off the shelf solutions which present limited risk and flexibility for development.

The evidence of behavioural change and adaptation to transport innovations is very positive. Those who doubted the potential of Dubai Metro (the longest automated mass transit system in the world) to attract users will be eating humble pie for a many years. Its success has led to similar technologically advanced networks being proposed and planned across the region, and the impact on cities like Doha and Riyadh will be huge.

The Gulf states have among the highest levels of mobile phone penetration in the world and apps like Uber have enjoyed tremendous success. Transport authorities are also capitalising on this with their smart systems, making it easier to order taxis, catch a bus or work out your best route from A to B.

There’s also a big push in the region to encourage active, healthy lifestyles and technology is making the roads safer for vulnerable users such as cyclists, although there’s a long way to catch up with cities like London or Paris, not to mention Copenhagen. We’re working closely with government clients in the region at the moment to understand the full implications of taking on new systems, such as the physical changes needed for the roads infrastructure.

The creation of cycle friendly environments could typically entail layout changes to traffic light junctions, where sensors will detect cyclists and allow them a head start before cars get the green light. Intelligent sensors can also detect when pedestrians are still crossing a road to ensure traffic lights don’t change too early.

So it’s an exciting time for all modes of transportation in the Middle East. There are challenges – there’s little incentive for private sector investment, while cheap fuel means people will continue to be married to their 4x4s. However, the region is a melting pot, with 200 nationalities and a spirit for getting things done, so I’m expecting to see it keep forging ahead and improving how we get around.

For more information on MaaS, you can download a new white paper, Journeys of the Future, written by the UK Transportation’s intelligent mobility team at Atkins here.

> To continue the discussion on Intelligent Mobility, please join our dedicated LinkedIn Group

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Middle East & Africa,

Donna Huey
09 Feb 2015

I recently attended two global conferences regarding the use and proliferation of technology in the engineering industry and was truly astounded at the collision of so many professions at one time. In years past, you would find these events filled with techies looking for the next release or new whiz-bang software feature.

But today, you’ll find an equal fill of managers, executives, and owners all looking to up their game. The mergers of CAD with GIS, the technologist with the engineer, and even AEC with industries like movies and gaming, are all creating new ideas and approaches to design by the truckload. All of the traditional lines and boundaries are being blurred.

We speak frequently about the explosion of technology and how significantly it is impacting us. However, I believe the explosion of collaboration and the mixing of ideas between people and industries whose paths rarely crossed previously, or in some cases were even avoided, will be equally if not more revolutionary. Now, combine the advances of technology and the communication between diverse industries at the same time, and we really are embarking on a design renaissance like we have never seen before.

Being a scientist at heart and spending nearly my entire career in the engineering and design community, I find this topic fascinating. It’s a big global experiment and we’re all in it! When you discover new connections in nature it generally yields breakthroughs that advance our thinking or solve misunderstood phenomena. So, as we continue to uncover these new connections in society, who can predict the innovative solutions we might be able to bring to bear! We are facing some of the most complex problems of our time in addressing the long-term infrastructure needs of our society with the delicate environmental balance of our planet.

I firmly believe that with this new age of interdisciplinary collaboration, coupled with advanced technologies, we can build a clearer understanding of options and therefore a clearer path to decision making.

So, how will we evolve as the lines between industries are blurred? How can we ensure we’ll contribute to positive change in the way we approach the global-scale challenges of our industry? What must we do differently in the future to address the global infrastructure challenge? Here are my thoughts:

  • Let’s remember it’s still all about people: The changes we need to make are a little about technology and a lot about people, new roles, and new skills. We need to prioritize our investments accordingly.
  • Human nature is a funny thing: This is not a one and done kind of issue, rather it’s adaptive change that we’ll need to work at continuously. We’ll need to keep working to establish new relationships and new ways of thinking and not let our muscle memory snap us back to our old ways.
  • A new breed of designer: Everyone plays a role in design, not just the engineer—so it’s imperative that we all begin to learn more about how things work. Technologists need a better understanding of engineering, engineers need a better understanding of technology, and we all need to be able to tell a better story, together.
  • Information overload: The design industry is talking a lot right now about BIM (Building Information Modeling), but it’s still an abstract concept to many. What’s most important to understand is the “I”—the purposeful management of information for the whole project life cycle, but recognizing the real value in each piece of information is key. We bring different perspectives to that value depending on the desired outcome or even one’s position in the supply chain. We need to be open and understand this clearly to meet both our project and clients’ needs.

I welcome your comments and feedback in this discussion as we encourage new connections. Through collaboration come breakthroughs. Exciting times aren’t ahead … they are now!

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North America,

Tim Edwards
21 Jan 2015

Aerospace is a global industry that demands the very best engineers and engineering. Even today, 35 years since I left school and became a part of this profession, I am amazed daily by the ingenuity shown in new aerospace products and the sheer engineering know-how and skill that is demonstrated in bringing those products to market.

This amazement stems not only from the technical excellence embodied within a piece of aerospace engineering, but also the social organization that is needed to coordinate the efforts of the thousands of engineers, often separated by distance, time and language, involved in the development of something like a commercial airliner.

Atkins needs to be no less rigorous in delivering its contribution to these massive aerospace programs. We, too, operate on a global scale, across different time zones, and immense distances. We, too, must deliver products of consistently high quality to customers whose practices and standards differ, but whose demand for excellence is uniform. We, too, strive to progressively improve our quality.

So how do we achieve this? I believe the answer lies within a global governance system that is unequalled in efficiency and maturity amongst our competitors.

Using the Atkins model, engineers from our offices around the world, including our Seattle office which we opened in 2011, all use the same quality systems and our designated checkers in each office are measured against the same standards and in the same way.

In each office, engineers speak with local representatives of our global network of discipline heads, who in turn liaise constantly with their local head of engineering and with their counterparts in other offices, to develop aerospace products of a consistently high standard.

Technology has a key part to play as well. Our new Engineering Gateway – an online technical knowledge sharing hub developed in-house – supports this global network of engineering and serves as our common point of reference for aerospace engineering approaches, methods and standards. This innovative tool sits on our common, secure IT system which is fully compliant with ISO27001 standards. It is also carefully partitioned, ensuring that the intellectual property of each of our clients is completely preserved, including sensitive ITAR data.

Global quality management is achieved through a common quality management system and by our world-wide use of desktop video-conferencing. The ability of any of our engineers to speak face-to-face with any other engineer removes the barriers of geography that would otherwise exist. As a result, achieving the common understanding necessary to attain a consistent standard has become a reality and has been witnessed in the success of our newest office in Seattle, which is already delivering high quality work to local customers.

Our international aerospace team services an ever more diverse customer base, but achieves a common quality standard throughout. This guarantees that our customers receive the same excellent engineering solutions from Atkins no matter where in the world it is delivered. Having teams in different time zones also allows us to utilise every hour of the working day, with one engineering team seamlessly picking up the work when another finishes for the day.

All of this lies behind the work we deliver for aerospace customers across the world. So next time you read about a major engineering project and wonder at the engineering talent that has made that a reality, spare a thought for the co-ordination involved in creating these incredible products by teams separated by different time zones and thousands of miles.

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Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Anne Kemp
15 Dec 2014

I’ve been working on the UK Government’s BIM programme for three years now and learned an immense amount on the way – the rewards, the challenges and the pitfalls of implementing BIM across a wide range of organisations – both from the points of view of the client and the supply chain.

The first thing which has been impressed on me is that BIM demands clear and unambiguous project management, a lean approach and a collaborative engagement throughout the delivery team. The second point is that BIM could and should be used for anything that is built. The fact it considers a project across its whole life cycle and in the wider environment in which it sits makes it a particularly powerful tool. With a BIM project, you start with the end in mind.

The roll-out of BIM should begin with understanding the decision-making process.

Personally I find that Brad Power from Havard Business School sums it up perfectly: “Process is about action….The problem is, in this explicit focus on process-as-action, organizations overlook a much more powerful process performance lever — day-to-day operational decisions”. Drive Performance by Focusing on Routine Decisions, Brad Power, Harvard Business School, January 2014

Once understood, you can identify what is the minimum data required to support that process, and how that needs to be presented so it is understandable and accessible to the people who need to make the decisions. Ensuring decisions are recorded and retrievable at any stage is key so that the knowledge of how and why a particular part of the infrastructure was developed is preserved for use throughout its operational life. Once you have this defined, then you are in a great place to exploit 3D modelling and visualisation to its maximum potential.

However, if, for example, a client’s desired project outcome is to develop an integrated component of a smart city with in-built sensors and responders a key requirement will be ensuring that the supply chain is incentivised to share longer term objectives with the client. This is why we will continue to see different procurement methods being trialled and collaborative working appearing as an imperative across much of the industry.

What is abundantly clear is that roll-out of BIM is a significant change programme and being able to win the hearts and minds of project managers in taking ownership of BIM adoption, is imperative.

In many ways, BIM addresses explicitly the problems identified by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink (2007:264). “We live in a world saturated with information….But what I have sensed is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding”.

So, embracing BIM is not about reacting to a mandate from the UK Government, although that has provided valuable drive and focus on how to make roll-out industry-wide a practical reality. It is much more about needing to embrace the opportunity to become more efficient and effective in our delivery and to remain competitive on the global stage.

I firmly believe that BIM is a necessary pre-cursor to the industry’s ability to respond to and manage big data, and the drive towards future-proofing cities (including the smart city concept). Furthermore, as determined at an innovation summit held earlier this year for senior leaders, BIM underpins much of the industry’s ability to innovate within a stable, safe environment.

So in summary, for now, I would single out five key points for why I believe BIM is important to our industry:

  • It converges information production with sound engineering judgement and design
  • It provides wider, faster access to comprehensible and integrated information
  • It fosters instinctive but rigorous collaboration and better decision making
  • It harnesses innovative technologies and harvests intelligence from big data
  • It enables reflective, adaptive thinking to incorporate whole life and integrated systems approach within the wider geographic context.

To find out more about our work around BIM click here

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Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

John Box
25 Nov 2014

Eco Futures

At an ecology conference recently in Edinburgh, while the presentations were on a wide variety of topics, I was struck by the common theme of environmental change. Changes from small developments, from infrastructure projects, from new ways of managing river catchments, from analysing the many species in an insect trap using just a DNA analyser. I am reminded of the business adage that says: “change is inevitable, how do we make the most of it?” Change is normal in our lives and our work – and in all organisations. It is just that businesses accept these changes more readily and deal with the consequences faster than the public or the voluntary sector.

What is the relevance of this to the environment, and indeed to ecology? The Infrastructure Projects division of Network Rail that deals with infrastructure renewals and enhancements has generated a powerful objective in their five year business plan – to make a net positive contribution to biodiversity in the UK. This is sustainable development in action. The famous three-legged stool of economic growth, social equality and environmental protection was first propounded by the Brundtland Commission in Our Common Future way back in 1987. This approach underpins the ecosystem approach set out more recently, which promotes the idea that we should place values on the benefits and services we derive from the environment and from biodiversity.

If Network Rail Infrastructure Projects can have such a demanding objective, and I am sure other major corporates are thinking along the same lines – who then is the custodian of the environment? Not just the public sector regulators, but also the private sector driven by their shareholders on the one hand and their staff on the other.

The public will benefit from such dramatic changes. The public that includes you, me and everyone who needs a daily dose of nature for the health and well-being of us all. Let’s have more business plans that commit to no net loss of biodiversity. This will require the regulators to catch up with those who are leading this particular tectonic shift. We are moving from accepting environmental damage to repairing the environment and even to biodiversity gains.

This will have an impact in so many different ways: green bridges, green walls and green roofs; blue and green infrastructure; sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) and much more. Engineers and architects, planners and urban designers will now have a real goal to aim for. Landscape designers and ecologists will have to understand the language of engineers and architects. There is no longer a need to be concerned about whether one newt or one reptile or one badger could be harmed by a new development or by an infrastructure project. All projects will now have to have biodiversity gains built in from the start. What a game changer! And from such a simple phrase, “make a net positive contribution to biodiversity.”

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UK & Europe,

Tim Edwards
03 Nov 2014

As I write this I’m working out of our Seattle office, preparing to introduce the Bloodhound SSC project to an engineering audience at a US technical symposium in Seattle. It’s a project that has grabbed the fascination of countless people across the world – from its base in the UK to all the way across the Atlantic – and it’s easy to see why.

Bloodhound SSC’s mission profile is to beat the 763.035 mph world land speed record set by Thrust SSC in 1997 and hopefully raise the record to 1,000 mph. If the project is successful the vehicle will need all of the 135,000 horse power generated by its jet and rocket engines to allow it to cover a measured mile in a staggering 3.6 seconds.

Bloodhound is an extraordinary automobile and its design speed makes it faster than a jet fighter at sea level. It’s therefore no surprise that the technologies supporting its development are closer to aerospace than automotive.

Our aerospace team had the privilege of consulting on some aspects of the composite material elements behind the supersonic car’s construction, as well as applying the rigorous stress testing principles learnt from large aircraft development programmes to a car with the ambition of creating ‘the fastest man on earth’.

We’ve also had the opportunity to raise awareness of the project with a wide variety of audiences, from presenting at STEM-led school workshops in the UK and abroad to engineering events in the States.

As part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, a team of Atkins engineers are undertaking a workshop for Year 8 pupils at a Bristol school on Thursday 6 November. After being introduced to the Bloodhound SSC project and the engineering principles that lie behind the car, the students will then be invited to put that knowledge into practice by building their own balloon-powered Bloodhound and racing them against their peers.

Bloodhound’s mission is about more than just the engineering principles behind the car, and whether the team hit their target of 1,050 mph or not, the project will not only have challenged what is possible but also have helped to inspire tomorrow’s engineers.

You can read more about Atkins’ involvement in the Bloodhound project here. The Bloodhound project was also featured on a recent BBC Newsbeat report.

*picture credit: Stefan Marjoram

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UK & Europe,

John Box
06 Aug 2014

We are used to thinking of infrastructure as transport and utilities and the like, all vital areas for investment and ones in which Atkins has plenty of experience. However, I particularly welcome the prominence of green infrastructure in the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 released for consultation on 30 July by Mayor Boris Johnson.

Residents and visitors to London will be familiar with the green islands provided by areas like the royal parks across London, and many of us have welcomed the respite from urban life along green corridors provided by rail lines on their daily commutes. The Infrastructure Plan reflects growing recognition that such areas are more than just nice to have for the people who visit them and the wildlife they support. They also have direct benefits to the economy of London. Examples are improving public health through cleaner air quality and reducing risks to lives from flooding and heat waves, both of which can be exacerbated by increased urbanisation.

The plan sets out challenges to the way existing green spaces are managed and new ones are created, because this wide range of benefits, sometimes termed ecosystem services, is not properly understood and accounted for in decisions.

The Mayor says that “an extra 9,000ha of accessible green space needs to be provided in both traditional and new ways.” The plan contains particularly exciting commitments to development projects led by the Greater London Authority (GLA) or Transport for London (TfL), which will embed the concept of green infrastructure at project inception. New standards will also be developed to ensure that in those parts of the city that are subject to increased densification, there will be a minimum 10 per cent increase in the amount of green cover.

Just as there are 19,500 bus stops in London, and 90 per cent of Londoners live within 400 metres of one, why not set a similar goal for access to greenspace.

My challenge to GLA, TfL, urban masterplanners and designers is to look at every project and see if it could contribute to a goal of ensuring that every person living and working in London has access to green infrastructure within five minutes walk or 300 metres of their home and their workplace.

This challenge is based on guidance Natural England published in 2010 on the benefits of increased availability of accessible natural greenspace. The benefits of green infrastructure to society have been demonstrated by scientific studies.

Public access to greenspace has been recognised as an issue for decades in London, from the early work of the London Ecology Unit identifying ‘Areas of Deficiency’ to London Wildlife Trust now calling on city gardeners to pledge to transform the capital’s three million gardens into a network of “mini nature reserves”.

For example, for every 10 per cent increase in greenspace there can be a reduction in community health complaints equivalent to a reduction of five years of average adult age. I am not pretending for a moment that there would not be costs in this approach, but the benefits to London and Londoners would be beyond price.

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UK & Europe,

John Box
19 May 2014

There is currently a lot of talk about natural capital and ecosystem services – the concepts are rapidly gaining traction as the way to ensure our environment is better managed. But what about sustainable development? How does a better understanding of natural capital and ecosystem services help to deliver it?

Primarily, natural capital and ecosystem services give us a better grip on the ‘environment’ leg of the sustainable development stool. Sustainable development requires us to balance three types of capital – economic, environmental and social. Notably, natural capital and ecosystem services tell us about different aspects of sustainable development.

Natural capital refers to the ‘stock’ of our natural environment assets. It represents a ‘capabilities’ approach to conceptualising sustainable development – and sustainability requires us to consume capital at a rate no greater than it is being produced. In this sense what is available for us to use today is also available for others to use tomorrow, enabling intergenerational equity.

Ecosystem services refer to the flow of benefits that we receive from natural capital. They represent an ‘outcome’ approach to conceptualising sustainable development – and sustainability requires per capita benefits to be maintained over time. In addition to covering intergenerational equity, this approach also helps to explore the distribution of benefits across society, that is, intra-generational equity.

When one brings in arguments of strong and weak sustainability – that is, the extent to which one form of capital can be substituted for another – it is clear that a comprehensive understanding is required of both stocks and flows. Even then, arguments will remain about the most appropriate development trajectory.

Natural capital accounting is an important component in the development of more comprehensive ‘wealth accounts’[1]. If successful, such accounting will help us move beyond the current GDP-focussed statistics, providing a visible picture of how we are using our stocks of capital – manufactured, natural, human and social – and at its most complete, also how benefits flow from that capital. Such a fundamental monitoring of sustainable development could have significant influence on Government policy.

However, one only has to look at how difficult it is to estimate our current economy-based national accounts, and the criticism that is levelled at the Office of National Statistics for their ongoing revisions to the data, to realise the level of criticism that could be levelled at any natural capital or wealth accounts.

And might this surely be the case if it turns out that natural capital accounts tell a bad political news story. How would this brush up against the ‘growth agenda’ and the political need for positive GDP and deficit reduction? Will there always be a reason why truly sustainable development isn’t a short term priority?

There is strong Government, and private sector, commitment to producing extended accounts that incorporate the environment. Let’s hope that this commitment remains when the accounts start posing tough choices that challenge the economic and political status quo.

[1] See the World Banks WAVES partnership project for more information:

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Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

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