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2025 Outlook: Revamping infrastructures – III

The fully automated train expected to enter operation in December 2021 on the Hamburg S-Bahn. Image credit: Deutsche Bahn

In a recent post I reported on the scheduled activation of the first autonomous train on the S-Bahn network in Hamburg. This is an example of the interest to revamp existing infrastructures by companies and institutions all over the world. Another example is the plan for the electrification of 2,000 km of highways in Sweden.

Discussion with a number of key people having responsibility for running infrastructures has clearly pointed out the strong interest to adopt solutions that can revamp existing infrastructures rather than building new ones. The cost -and time- involved in the development of infrastructures is a big challenge, most of the time blocking progress.

What technology can do is to provide ways to keep using the current infrastructures, sometimes even extending their life time, delivering new services and/or significantly improving operations.

This is a trend that will continue over the coming years, extending into the next decade. It applies to cities, buildings and houses as well. Will it apply to ICE vehicles (converting a today’s car into an electric car)? Here the challenges are many, both technical and regulatory but there are a number of researches going on and a few start ups are looking into retrofitting.

By the way, self-driving cars are a good example of something new that has to come to terms with the existing environment: if self-driving cars were to operate in a context where all vehicles are self-driving the approach to autonomous driving will be quite different with an emphases on car to car communications, something that is not possible in a world where many cars would not be able to communicate (and act/react).

There is quite a bit of opportunities in applying technology to revamp existing infrastructures and long-life products. Both economics and circular economy considerations are pushing this area that probably requires a lot more engineering skills than designing something from scratch.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.