ACEC Florida President Tom Hayden, PE

To the ACEC Florida Community,

In response to the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26, discussions about our country’s Infrastructure needs have been in the headlines for weeks. I am sure many of our members have had multiple conversations with their non-engineer friends and families about this event, as the general public always turns to Civil Engineers to answer questions and reassure the public when a tragedy like this occurs.

In response to this tragedy, which cost the lives of four workers that night, the Francis Scott Key bridge collapse will be studied by Civil Engineers for decades to come. The ultimate findings of this study will help our industry learn from this heartbreaking event, so we can minimize the chances of a tragedy like this happening again.

I have been watching the news and reading the early reports and findings from the collapse, and I am continually amazed at the technology that our industry is utilizing daily to help solve complex issues. As a geotechnical engineer who fully embraces the incorporation of geophysics to enhance traditional geotechnical design methods, I was interested in finding out how the response team was going to map the bridge debris in the channel to prioritize the extraction of the wreckage. On April 10th, national news sources reported that the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) performed a geophysical scan/survey of the channel floor using CodaOctopus Underwater Survey equipment. While these equipment test methods are proprietary to the Company that developed the technology, a glance at the 3-dimensional figures that were released shows that this state-of-the-art survey resembles the technology that engineers and surveyors use daily on Projects throughout the State of Florida.  The images/profiles that the equipment produced provide a comprehensive survey and model of each piece of the wreckage that is present in the channel, allowing the design team to sequence the extraction of the wreckage to allow the opening of the Patapsco River shipping channel as quickly as possible.

This type of technology is currently being utilized throughout our industry. In the geotechnical sector, consulting firms have embraced geophysical test methods, such as Electrical Resistivity Imaging (ERI), Multichannel Analysis of Surface Waves (MASW), Cross hole Seismic (CS), and other methods when evaluating a site for the presence of karst (sinkhole) features.  This technology, coupled with traditional geotechnical field investigation methods, has allowed geotechnical engineers to develop 3-dimensional profiles of karst features to provide more precise site-specific repair guidelines to remediate these features as cost-effectively as possible.

One of the most impressive new technologies that our Industry is embracing is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In the coming years, AI will provide the engineering industry (and all other industries) with far more useful tools than we currently see from the ChatGPT platform.  As with everything in the AI space, there are very significant concerns about the ramifications of this technology. However, the preliminary benefits of AI are already starting to be realized.

One of the early tools that AI is focusing on in 2024 involves the “machine learning” aspect of the new AI platforms. The Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT’s) District III Office recently met with Materials Staff and geotechnical consultants to make them aware of some new technologies that the Central Office was evaluating.  In this meeting, a vendor gave a presentation on new geotechnical software being developed that utilizes AI tools. The software, while still in its infancy, is incredibly powerful.  The vendor stated that they are working around the clock to develop AI software that can ultimately “learn” the inner workings and procedures of each firm to automate an extensive number of procedures currently being performed by hand.  The goal of the software is to ultimately allow the design firm to “automate” the rough draft of the boring log plan sheets, as well as the boring logs themselves, by simply importing the handwritten field and laboratory logs into the system.

Technologies like these are the key to innovation and will likely lead to significant design innovations in the coming years.  And I fully expect that ACEC Florida member firms will be the leaders of these innovations, both throughout our state, as well as our country.


Tom Hayden, P.E.
Vice President / Senior Geotechnical Engineer
Environmental and Geotechnical Specialists (EGS) |

Published On: April 12th, 2024

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