A lot of infrastructure is buried close to the ground’s surface.
According to March 2015 utility damage-prevention statistics,
the United States is host to 20 million miles of underground
pipe and cable, and more is added every day.
The nation’s One-Call system is the backbone for initiating utility locates, and most of that work continues to be done
using handheld electromagnetic tools and by marking the
paths of cable or pipe with color-coded flags or paint. However, these instruments require the buried utility to transmit
an electric signal to make locates—absent on many steel and
plastic pipes and conduits. Other locating options are available
but have limitations. In addition, sanitary sewers and pipes
open to the atmosphere, such as storm sewers, are often not
located through One-Call.
Despite continuing improvements in One-Call procedures
and the adoption of new technologies into the process, many
utility hits result because locates were made improperly, One-Call was never contacted, requested locates were not made or
were completed late, or markings were inaccurate.
Now, picture this: a construction project in a well-developed
part of a city where a directional drilling crew is preparing to
install a section of gas pipe in an easement already containing multiple utilities. The foreman looks at a tablet screen that
displays a real-time view of the work site (streets, sidewalks,
trees, buildings, etc.) as seen by the device’s built-in camera.
Look closer. Not only does the image on the screen show the
live scene, it clearly depicts what is beneath the ground with
images of color-coded pipes and cables, ducts and manholes—
showing their precise locations in relation to the real-time
picture of the surface.
This is happening today, but on a limited scale. The technology has the potential to drastically change the way buried utility
locations are mapped, said Mark Wallbom, chief financial officer and executive director of Hydromax USA, an independent
professional services firm specializing in data collection in support of locating and assessing the condition of the country’s
aging underground utility infrastructure.
“Superman could see through buildings and under the
ground with X-ray vision,” Wallbom said. “While impossible,
the concept is not foreign to us. With a little help from technol-
ogy, we can, in fact, see underground. We call it ‘augmented
reality’ because two or more technologies are combined in
an interoperable fashion that allows the viewer to see things
that are visible in real-time, along with other elements that are
contextually added to the view, thereby creating an immersive
experience that enhances reality in ways that make it more
meaningful to the viewer.”
Using a service provider with a database that contains the
digital subsurface dataset of the work site that was previously
mapped using various geophysical tools and survey grade posi-
tioning instruments, the returned 3-D images are incorporated
into the smart device, and the images are combined and dis-
played on its screen.
The technology isn’t new. Its origins date back to the late
“Flash back to Sunday, Sept. 27, 1998, and a memorable night
in television history,” Wallbom said. “ESPN’s broadcast of the
Baltimore Ravens-Cincinnati Bengals game introduced the
now-ubiquitous ‘magic’ yellow first-down marker. In order to
make the experience one that added value to the viewer, this
augmented line had to appear as if it were painted on the field
while remaining in perspective as the action—being shot from
multiple cameras with different focal lengths—continued to
swirl around it. This magic line had to appear as though it was
under the players’ feet and not on top of their jerseys. While this
concept was first patented 20 years before, the vision existed, but
the technological ability to bring the vision into reality had not
yet been developed. This fact did not impede ongoing development of the concept, and, of course, today we expect to see these
visual aids that significantly enhance the viewing experience.”
Augmented reality can be applied to underground facility
“By adding georeferenced subsurface elements, such as electrical cables and conduits, to the view seen through the lens of a
Mapping underground utilities in the modern age