‘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 video depicts the surface features as well as valve boxes, elbows and other color coded underground objects.

“This level of detail is atypical,” Wallbom said. “Normally, what is seen would be polylines as on a CAD drawing or blueprint. There are software programs in use today that allow the operator to add sizing to these lines as well as different color coding, and there is an image library with different pipe fittings, valves, manholes, etc. In this case, the polyline 3D dataset is enhanced or augmented by adding elements to the view that creates a lifelike ‘feel’ to the data.”

When fully implemented, engineers will be able to call up an augmented reality “map” from the cloud that is coordinated with existing subsurface data, click on a culvert, and bring up all information about that culvert. Staff can then update or modify information in the field, essentially creating an as-built on the fly.

Recently, Michael Kennerly, P.E., director of the Office of Design, Iowa Department of Transportation, said that having a mobile device like an iPad that could be taken out into the field and pointed in any direction and see in real time the overlaying of the subsurface infrastructure in the correct prospective and orientation to structures above ground would be of “enormous assistance.” Kennerly went on to say that “. . . once these 3D visual platforms become available it will open up a seemingly endless number of possibilities.”

Such combined surface/subsurface images and the attending digital database from which they are extracted can be used both by the design engineer in the office to plan new installations in a fully virtual 3D CAD environment. Then, the installation contractor out in the field can use this information on his tablet or phone during the excavation to more safely avoid existing utilities.

What’s next?
Wallbom said many organizations are contributing to the development of augmented reality for construction and other applications.

“Companies like Trimble are way down the road looking for ways to leverage their suite of complementary technologies,” he explained. “Both smaller boutique software companies like JBKnowledge Technologies and large firms like Bentley and Autodesk, engineering firms like VTN, and service companies like Guardian Prostar are charging ahead as they individually envision different possibilities.”