‘Augmented Reality’ Peers Below The Surface: Technology Could Revolutionize Underground Engineering, Design, Construction

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | October 2013, Vol. 68 No. 10

“The tablet or smart phone provides a live image of the location,” he said. “Because tablets and smart phones employ a built-in GPS, compass and an inclinometer, the device knows its exact location and orientation, depending on what angle it is being held. A Wi-Fi enabled device can stream real-time images to the cloud and, in return, receive information back from the cloud.”

By utilizing 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 positioning instruments, the returned three-dimensional images are incorporated into the smart device and the images are combined and displayed on its screen. To relate to the real-time view from the camera, the underground map must be in a digital format with survey grade control points imbedded in the database.

“Within the boundary of the survey,” said Wallbom, “it is possible to point the device at, for example, a fire hydrant, and see an augmented representation of the underground pipe that serves the hydrant.

“As the person holding the device moves about the site, so does the image of the subsurface. In addition to the hydrant’s pipe, the image also would show other pipes, cables and anything else that was captured in the 3D subsurface survey providing an enhanced view of reality.”

Being able to see the relationships between above ground structures and below ground infrastructure clearly offers multiple advantages to engineers and planners, contractors and property owners.

A recent project in Las Vegas illustrates the potential of combining various technologies to achieve augmented reality.

VTN, a full-service engineering, planning and surveying company, based in Las Vegas, completed a subsurface utility excavation (SUE) project for the city of Las Vegas that produced a set of 3D models of above ground structures and underground infrastructure of a 1.5-mile corridor of Main Street in front of the new City Hall in downtown Las Vegas. The models were designed to run with software that Las Vegas already was using.

A variety of techniques were used to capture all of the underground utilities and other underground infrastructure, including GIS, survey, design records, test holes, traditional pipe and cable locators and ground penetrating radar (GPR). Above-ground images were produced by combining GIS data with mobile laser scanning.

Wallbom suggests viewing the VTN website to see firsthand a video made in Las Vegas.

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