21 May 2009 13:02:00.000
Cones, holes and temporary traffic lights… the scourge of Britain’s roads! But now scientists and industry have come together to reduce the misery of motorists caused by the repair, maintenance and upgrading of pipes and cables under the tarmac. They’ll reveal how new technology will allow workers to virtually ‘see’ underground before they start digging.
A sector-wide seminar at The University of Nottingham on June 11th brings together these pioneering researchers, utilities companies and local authorities to reveal the results of a major project that aims to unclog Britain’s traffic arteries.
For the past three years the VISTA project has been working to transform the technology for mapping the underground network of drains, water and gas pipes, as well as power and communications cables. Many of the older ‘buried assets’ date back to Victorian times, when accurate records of their location and depth were not recorded.
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Every year 4 million holes are dug on Britain’s streets to access the subterranean maze of 3.5 million kilometres of pipes and cables. Up to now, utility companies have needed to dig a series of ‘test’ holes to find the service they need to work on. This prolongs the road works and increases the risk of damaging other services beneath the road or pavement. The resulting delay to road users, disruption to business, environmental damage and safety costs add up to around £4 billion, in addition to the £1 billion direct cost to utilities companies and local councils.
The VISTA project draws to a close this year and is bringing together existing paper and digital records with the latest satellite and ground-based ‘radar’ positioning systems to create 3D maps of the buried utilities network. A virtual-reality style computer system is being developed which will allow workers onsite to ‘see’ underground. This could eventually be available on the web.
Scientists at The University of Nottingham have been working on developing satellite technology to improve satellite positioning accuracy and availability, especially in urban areas. Dr Gethin Roberts from the University’s Institute of Engineering Surveying and Space Geodesy (IESSG) says: “Obviously, there is a concentration of underground utilities pipes and cables in built-up areas of cities, where GPS reliability can be problematic. The height of densely packed buildings can lead to so-called ‘urban canyons’ where there is no line of sight between satellites and the GPS receiver, which leads to a degradation of the signal.”
The research team has looked at a number of ways of overcoming these issues, including:
The use of ground-based pseudo-satellites called LocataLites, working on a wifi frequency, and integrated with existing GPS and other Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS).
Simulating future satellite signals over the next five years when the full constellation of satellites from the GPS (US), GLONASS (Russian), COMPASS (Chinese) and Galileo (European) systems will be fully operational to predict the range of signal available.
Developing a new method of combining GNSS with INS (Inertial Navigation Systems) to augment satellite data in ‘urban canyons’.
Combining ground penetrating radar (GPR) with GNSS to identify and position buried assets.
Developing augmented reality (AR) computer system, similar to virtual reality, which uses real coordinates and positions to allow workers out in the field to ‘see’ utilities underground.
Researchers at The University of Leeds’ School of Computing have been working to create a central database to make the records kept on the underground network easier to access and understand by all involved in utilities delivery. Professor Anthony Cohn says: “A single unified digital representation which is created directly from asset owner records, allows users in the field or the office to visualize all the information about a dig-site quickly and in a way independent of the particular asset owner; this reduces the possibility of misinterpretation, and the digital representation allows the end user to tailor the map to their particular purposes interactively.”
The scientists have been collaborating with more than 20 industry partners including utility companies and suppliers and manufacturers of surveying and positioning technology. VISTA has been managed by UK Water Industry Research Ltd, which is responsible for procuring research required to satisfy the water industry’s strategic business needs.
The £2.2 million project has been funded with just under £900,000 from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills’s Technology Strategy Board and in-kind contributions from industry partners.
The VISTA project dovetails with a £1 million Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded study called Mapping the Underworld that was led by the universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Oxford and Nottingham and is now into its second phase in which data from a multisensor device will be fused with the VISTA integrated maps to develop a “body scanner for the street”.
It also works alongside the National Underground Assets Group (NUAG), a partnership of relevant stakeholders including utilities and local authorities, and its outcomes will assist in meeting the Traffic Management Act’s requirements for utilities to produce and exchange digital asset location information.
Notes on the forthcoming seminar:
VISTA — Transforming the Technology for Buried Asset Records, hosted by GRACE (the GNSS Research and Applications Centre of Excellence) at The University of Nottingham will take place at the Sir Colin Campbell Building on Jubilee Campus on Thursday June 11 from 10am to 4pm.
The interactive workshop, chaired by Les Guest of the National Joint Utilities Group (NJUG) will give details of the outputs from the VISTA project as well as the opportunities to participate in hands-on demonstrations of the technologies developed. More information on how to book is available online at www.grace.ac.uk
Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.