The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Fakhar Khalid, Chief Scientist at Sensat. Sensat uses digital twin technologies to minimize risk and increase consumer confidence in critical infrastructure products. Sensat also uses visualization and collaboration data tools to reduce risk throughout an asset’s lifecycle.
Kir Nuthi: How does Sensat use its digital twin technology to bring digital automation to the civil infrastructure sector?
Fakhar Khalid: The construction industry is one of the oldest, least digitized industries. At Sensat, we’re working on era-defining technology and are on a mission to automate how infrastructure is planned, built, and managed to create a sustainable and restorative future.
Sensat helps infrastructure owners and their construction partners deliver infrastructure programs on time and on budget by uncovering hidden risks. We use our digital twin platform to enable teams to access a survey-grade, three-dimensional digital site replica of their project which they can then access from anywhere across all project stakeholders.
Traditionally information has been hidden across multiple software applications and teams. Our software powers teams to manage and visualize live construction information so they can plan, coordinate, and track project performance for better, faster, more data-driven decisions. The highly accurate, data-rich “digital twins” at Sensat, augmented and assisted by machine learning, enables project stakeholders to automate laborious tasks, track progress against designs, and perform predictive maintenance.
Today over $150 billion of infrastructure is planned, built, and managed through Sensat around the world. As the bedrock of society, we want a greater proportion of the global population to have access to fundamental infrastructure (without wrecking our home planet in the process).
Nuthi: The infrastructure sector has been slow to adopt AI in the past. Why does Sensat believe it is critical for the architectural, engineering, and construction industries to adopt AI technology to mitigate risks, remove silos, and meet new sustainability targets?
Khalid: Firstly, to meet the challenges of the future, civil infrastructure must adopt new technologies to build smarter and more sustainably. Nudged by the onset of the pandemic, construction teams are investing now more than ever in innovation teams, trailing new technologies, and easing into a culture that is more favorable for adopting an innovation mindset. In the future, this investment will only grow as we find new ways of doing traditional construction tasks.
Secondly, AI technologies have greatly improved over the past decade, allowing us to trust their outputs more than ever. Both in the consumer and producer markets AI has proven to deliver value, even in its infancy stages. It has revolutionized the financial, manufacturing, and medicine industry with a plethora of automated solutions and examples to learn from. This trust in technology has led to the rapid adoption of AI in industries like construction, which are traditionally risk-averse.
AI, Machine learning, and digital twins have not just billion-pound value to the industry but, more importantly, significant value to the planet. Construction is one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world. So, when building for the future, automation and predictive analytics will be the key. The future AI-powered architectural , construction, and engineering project will always be on time and on budget because the estimates at the optioneering stages will be accurate, the plans will be sustainable and regenerative, construction processes will be automated, and maintenance of infrastructure will be cost-effective.
Nuthi: Flexibility is at the core of Sensat’s use of AI and data visualization. How does planning infrastructure digitally provide new avenues for collaboration, data usage, and data collection?
Khalid: For the first time, digital twin platforms like Sensat’s enable teams to overlay all of their project information onto a highly precise and accurate 3D replica of their sites which are updated on demand. Desktop access to the physical environment is helping to minimize time spent in dangerous environments such as live highways. Using digital twins for digital rehearsals of complex and laborious tasks provides a new way for teams to communicate in detail around a site without having to put boots on the ground. Cloud-based access is reducing carbon emissions and allows for the early identification of issues before it becomes a million-pound problem.
Collaborative digital twin platforms are breaking data and knowledge silos by bringing all stakeholders of a complex infrastructure project into one “true to reality” virtual replica of their site. These custom-designed digital twins of critical assets are both geospatial data and temporally rich, allowing users to either fast forward their plans and see what the infrastructure will look like or play the processes backward and learn from where the improvements need to be made for future successful projects.
Nuthi: What are some primary concerns or regulatory issues Sensat has encountered as it’s built up its digital twin technology?
Khalid: Sensat’s scaling and growth has been quite a mission, and we have not always gotten it right the first time. When we first started, it was an uphill battle to try and win customer confidence back in 2017, especially when you’re the new kid on the block in an industry such as construction. I think it’s okay to admit at this stage that we probably got our value proposition wrong at the beginning. We may have ruffled a few feathers trying to convince a “laggard” industry that we knew what was best for them. Finding visionaries to risk their reputation was a big ask, but I think it’s paid off for those who did. We wouldn’t be where we are today without our early customers and the invaluable feedback loop we have with them.
Nuthi: How will Sensat’s recent £17 million in Series B funding help in planning the company’s next steps for research and development, and what is the long-term goal for your product?
Khalid: Following our series B round of investment, the funds will help Sensat drive digital automation in infrastructure, which has traditionally lacked the productivity gains that have been a by-product of the rapid digital adoption in other sectors. We are here to rapidly and sustainably help a centuries-old industry to adapt to the digital revolution. We don’t simply want the architectural, engineering, and construction industry to catch up with the innovative mindset and technologies, we want it to lead the way to a bright and sustainable future.
The investment from National Grid, one of the world’s largest publicly listed utilities, adds significant credibility to the future of our technology. There is currently a once-in-a-generation shift towards sustainability, and Sensat’s technology has a crucial role to play in Net Zero objectives. Looking forward, we are taking Sensat international. We have built the business here in the United Kingdom and demonstrated its worth across infrastructure projects. We have just launched Sensat in Australia and the United States with great traction and early success. This will allow us to gain experience in diverse international industrial practices as well as grow our team and improve our technologies. It’s an exciting time ahead for Sensat’s growth and expansion. It’s an exciting time for the architectural, engineering, and construction industry to become one of the most environmentally friendly industries in the world.