GPS Technology Enhancing Underground Utility Locating

Pilot Project Aims To Improve Data Sharing, Stakeholder Communication
April 2010 Vol. 65 No. 4

Two software applications are loaded into the locating receiver. These programs allow the receiver, through a serial port, to export real time depth, current measurement index (CMI), frequency and locator mode to the integrated GPS unit. A second software program allows the Windows-based GPS units to receive the locator data. When the GPS unit receives that data, it cues the Magellan unit to record the latitude and longitude coordinates for the specific underground facility.

“The entire process is done automatically,” says Matt Manning, locating equipment product manager for McLaughlin. “Magellan GPS units are mounted to the utility locator and it’s a one-hand operation. In other words, once you’ve got the GPS unit set up, you basically are controlling all the locating and GPS recording with the push of one button on the utility receiver.”

The process is quite simple. A customer calls in a locate request and the one-call center generates a ticket for a specific address or location. The location may have anywhere from one to multiple utilities to be notified. Then the utility locator arrives and locates the underground facilities on that ticket, sending the data in real time and capturing the latitude and longitude for mapping capabilities.

A number of applications exist that have been capable of capturing data from a single point with a time stamp -- basically verifying the locator was at that point at a specific time.

“Other applications coupling the GPS unit to a locator existed, but they worked independent of each other,” says Pevarski. “What we’ve accomplished is an application that completely integrates and couples the GPS unit directly to the locator. The McLaughlin applications allow the locator operator to push the depth button and in one step collect the depth, longitude and latitude location of that utility.”

A number of facility owners have already mapped, through GPS, their surface features and attributes like transformers. Now facility owners have a simple software application that will allow them to easily map their underground facilities. The facility owner can download the raw data into a geographic information system (GIS) and use it to update or create their internal maps and overlay the information onto aerial photos, along with the other surface facilities that they’ve mapped.

Tracking excavator movements
Pevarski and his team are taking the technology one step further as Phase III of the pilot project will involve the integration of GPS and mapping technology on excavation equipment.