If we took a time machine back to 2007, mobile devices weren’t nearly as developed as they are today. Regarding field data collection, teams usually took a paper map of design drawings (for both greenfield and brownfield designs!). Network construction teams were well versed with the tallpaper stacks that would need to be taken out into the field. These papers were generally of a larger, unwieldy A3 size as well, which didn’t make the redlines any easier to make.
The workflow after this could go either of two ways.
1) The construction team would return in the evening and scan and send back the updated as-built drawings on the same day
2) The team chooses to return after a week, scanning all of the updated as-built drawings at once
You would be a lucky design team if you got the first scenario, and more often than not, construction teams end up going with option number two. This is understandable from their point of view, but many times it would also lead to missing papers, damaged drawings and more issues. Having to decipher different people’s handwriting does not help the situation either!
Emails, Photos and More!
In network deployments, there’s many a time where designers call for something that may not be required in the field, such as a trench, ora certain part of the design needs to be of a different size than notated.
Back in the day, this would be a lengthy back and forth with designers, involving a lot of emails and photos of paper with redline markings on it. After both parties came to an understanding, the design changes or as-built changes would then carry on.
The Move to Structured Data
As the unstructured way in which field walkouts and as-built updates were being conducted started leading to longer and longer delays, themove to structured data was imminent. Initial web applications with forms were the entry into the structured world, followed quickly by GIS-enabled data collection with base map overlays like Google Maps.
With almost real-time information coming to the fray a few years ago, construction teams could check the status of what is built, what is in progress and the materials being used, greatly reducing the turnaround time of projects and allows teams to be as efficient as possible.
Project Tracking / Management then became the next big trend to be introduced widely across the industry. With overall timeline views now being added, a construction manager could take a look at an interactive dashboard and see how a delay in one part of the project could contribute to the overall project timeline.
The Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence Wave
The next step in field data collection comes with the vast strides being made in machine learning and AI technologies today. Nowadays even as a photo is uploaded of a pit or a pole, applications can now validate what portion of the work is done, and what the next steps need to be.
The difference between an iPad with GIS imagery, project tracking, real-time dashboards and updates and AI-enabled image sensors with built-in suggestions, and a stack of paper maps and tables is monumental. The fact that this magnitude of change has taken in place in just around 10 years should get us even more excited for what the future holds for data collection.
What’s on the Horizon?
With voice sensing and drone imagery evolving day-by-day,the next step in field data collection will be virtual walkouts. In case of inclement weather conditions, be it rain or very high levels of heat, virtual field walkouts coordinated using voice sensors and drones are already taking place.
Currently with iBISS®, we’re looking to identify equipment in 5G bases using AI to process the images and identify different kinds of antennain the 5G world. The three trends of object identification, voice sensing and drone imagery are the ones that are coming fast. IMMCO will be looking to utilize these and continue to stay at the top of innovation in network field data collection!
About the Author:
Pictured: Sunil Kumar, CTO, IMMCO Inc