SC: Coming from applied R&D (both academic and industry-driven), the software was exposed from early on to wide peer scrutiny, and helped win relevant international awards. This led to exploratory roll-out in several locations worldwide, from Australia to the US and several countries in Europe. This allowed us to refine our offer to be useful to the challenges faced by utilities worldwide while learning outstanding practice from all of them and acknowledging regional specificities that enrich the overall product. We aim to be useful and relevant worldwide.
A case in point was a USEPA/WERF sponsored project to validate the software and asset management methodology in a US utility. Not only the software and the planning methods were proven useful and adequate to the context, including the data landscape, but the utility focus on ROI in their data-related investments allowed for significant refinements in some of the analytics provided, benefitting many other utilities we have worked with since.
More recently, and already in full blown commercial exploitation, some of our clients have presented us with specific circumstances that have both tested our technology and enabled it to shine. A client utility group in South America has its infrastructure spread over a large territory, and its 100 plus users have spontaneously developed a way to use our built-in system of network event notifications to generate an internal repository of maintenance actions. That country’s unusual management of daylight saving time periods during the year has spurred us to make the time syncing of our live data acquisition significantly more robust and elegant.
3DVW: I understand that you are also involved in work with 3D spatial time dynamics – what is that all about?
SC: Water usage, both supply-side (network) and demand-side (point-of-consumption) gives us not just a spatial description of human intensity at each moment, but also, and above all, detailed temporal behavior. What we get from our analytics and data source combination is a continuum of 3D depiction along time: the past, from historical records, to present (real-time) to future (predictive). This creates a very physical visualization of the urban metabolism – people in the city, and the time-varying states of the infrastructure delivering the service – that is actionable for all sorts of short- to long-term planning, retrospective analyses, and real-time contingency response.
3DVW: Many of our readers work on the simulation side of 3D and visualization. Can you explain how Baseform is involved in simulation?
SC: Some of our team members have a strong background in engineering modeling of the physical water infrastructures — developing and using mathematical models to calculate detailed hydraulics and water quality dynamic states that simulate the system’s behavior in any time interval. These essentially depict either recorded reality or hypothetical scenarios and help experts understand and improve the systems and their operation.
In our present 3D technology, this is combined with the ability to visually simulate time-dependent behaviors over the urban landscape. On the one hand, the behavior of human activity and its intensity across the city over time. On the other hand, the behavior of the infrastructure, benefitting from the above-mentioned mathematics. We are still learning how to take best advantage from our native 3D dynamics to achieve the ultimate goal of democratizing the usage of specialized analytics’ results, such as making it easier to non-experts to understand e.g. the hydraulics of water systems or how service demand across town varies in any given time lapse.
Water Pressure City-Wide with 3D Buildings
3DVW: While Baseform speaks to the questions of water, is it also involved in wastewater? Can you share some of the work that you are doing in this area?
SC: We cover all urban water infrastructures: drinking water, wastewater (sanitary sewer) and stormwater. We can also address other urban networked infrastructures such as district heating/cooling, and to a certain extent, gas.
Most of our portfolio of apps applies to wastewater and stormwater systems. Our real-time monitoring analytics afford actionable metrics related to network efficiency-- such as precise estimates of the excess volumes created by undesired infiltration & inflow and their correlation with rainfall in each system sector. These excess flows end up either in the treatment plant, vastly increasing treatment costs and energy waste, or spilled into the environment in overflows (CSOs), carrying with them undesired pollution and its physical and legal consequences. The ability to predict them and find out where in the network they originate is worth significant savings in capital investment and maintenance prioritization.
Another of our key analytics in this area is infrastructural reliability and failure risk. We analyze failure records and CCTV inspection records to mine for potential explanatory variables, predict failure probabilities and estimate the infrastructural assets’ useful lives. This combines favorably with the excess flow analysis to further refine the prioritization of infrastructural planning.
Human activity tracked in 3D
3DVW: How important are 3D and visualization to the work where Baseform is involved?
SC: 3D and visualization are central to the way we see our ability to provide value. Our recent partnership with Cybercity 3D to use their detailed, precisely modeled 3D buildings is a powerful and unique visual advantage in creating a more credible and immersive 3D environment.
The 3D advantage is taken to the full: the ability to calculate volumes precisely gives us an edge in mapping out census data, social data and location-based analytics to the physical world, to a level that is both innovative and represents a leap forward in this type of work.
3DVW: It seems that asset management and predictive capabilities are becoming more important in city infrastructure. Is that a fair statement in your observation and could you explain why?
SC: As mentioned in question #2, infrastructure asset management is fast becoming a central concern in managing the future sustainability of urban public infrastructures and the services they provide. The useful life of water infrastructure pipes may range from over a century to less than a couple of decades. Cities need to re-invest accordingly. Not doing so is like not paying a bank loan – it builds up. In the US alone, the current deferred investment gap is estimated to surpass $60bn. Many major cities, with infrastructures built many decades ago, experience issues such as water shortages, leakage, tariff increases, water quality hazards.
Apps dashboard within Baseform
A number of our analytics apps address system reliability and risk, by analyzing and predicting asset probability of failure and consequence of failure. These are crucial estimates that allow the city to extract as much service life as possible from its assets within the allowed service risk range, and at the same time afford better estimates of predicted performance associated with planning options.
On the other hand, cities are not static landscapes. Cities are people, and we at Baseform see them move and change throughout the day, week, season, year, across each urban area. Predicting their behavior and how the city evolves is key to constantly adapt the infrastructure to the real needs over time, as opposed to a fixed master plan often a decade or two old.
When the cities invest millions, sometimes billions of tax dollars, Euros or yen, it is worth deploying the best analytics to make sure those expenditures are in the right pipes and address the right evolution paths.
Sergio T Coelho is the CEO and a co-founder of Baseform. He has 25 years' experience in applied R&D in urban water systems, developing methods and models for demand analysis, hydraulic & water quality simulation, performance assessment, and infrastructure planning. He benefits from a wide network of European and US R&D peers, and has extensive experience in rolling out solutions to utilities, at home and internationally.