Planning a celebration of innovative ideas a year before receiving them would seem an uncharacteristically risky move for an organization such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, but the risk paid off at a June 20-22 symposium in the ASCE’s Reston Va., headquarters as a parade of award-winners delivered intriguing technologies and proposals likely to spur improvements in the future.

The ASCE Innovation Contest is designed to help address the ASCE’s Grand Challenge, which tasks civil engineers to enhance significantly the performance and life-cycle value of infrastructure by 2025 by stepping up with ideas for its transformation. Presentations at the 2017 Innovation Contest addressed sustainable engineering, resilience, transportation, business models and the internet of things. The nine winners and 10 honorable mentions ranged from proposed uses of technologies still in development, such as the Hyperloop, to tools already in trials that seem ready to use.

The Hyperloop proposal, judged most innovative in the transportation category, came from Timothy Klotz, a roadway engineering associate at AECOM in Raleigh, N.C. Klotz started working on it while he was a student at North Carolina State University.

Because urban sprawl makes expansion of most major airports costly and impractical, Klotz proposes using the Hyperloop’s high-speed people-moving capacity to pair existing city airports to outlying airfields, making the distant runways extensions of the urban facilities.

With maximum speeds of  750 mph, Klotz calculates that 30-minute, gate-to-gate transfers could be made between facilities as far apart as 110 miles; at a more sedate 300 mph, the range is almost 50 miles. “The Hyperloop transfer system has substantial potential to increase capacity in a cost-effective manner,” Klotz said.

As with any complex system, there is much to work out, observed contest chairman Jerry Buckwalter. “But the opportunity is there and the need is tremendous,” he added.

Engineer Michael Provencher won for the most innovative proposal in the internet-of-things category for adding acoustic signature matching to industrial controls. The matching could safeguard systems against cyberattacks.  Some malware takes over control systems and delivers false operation reports while running the machinery to destruction. By pairing acoustic monitoring over an independent network, the acoustic readings could authenticate control-data status reports or flag fraudulent ones. 

A design for a cast-concrete stacking-collar add-on for bridge pilings was judged the most-efficient entry in the resilience category. The collars change square and round piling profiles into hydrodynamically efficient symmetrical ones to reduce the turbulence that leads to scour and bridge failure. The presenters, Robie Bonilla-Gris and his daughter, Catalina Nadeau-Bonilla, also propose an added pattern of dimples on the surface—similar to the dimples that reduce wind turbulence around golf balls in flight—to diminish turbulence further. Their patented design is ready for field trials.

“This may be a lot cheaper than armoring,” said Jason Magalen, an ocean and coastal engineer with HDR in Portland, Ore. “It’s actually a brilliant idea.”

The winner for potentially delivering the overall greatest impact on the ASCE Grand Challenge went to Stolar Global Imaging LLC. Its technology leverages the way AM radio waves penetrate the earth and generate magnetic fields around objects and fluid plumes within it. By tracing those fields with sensors rolled or flown across them, the system can quickly map buried utilities of metal and plastic pipe and fluid plums as deep as 30 meters.