Mark Smith, CEO of Geospatial Corporation, spoke this week with GISCafe Voice about the challenges of mapping the underground, which includes mapping underwater. The company’s goal is to create an underground “map of the world,” by doing it “one pipeline at a time.” This is a sensible approach to a project that may seem a bit like trying to eat an elephant (start with the toes!). With the help of sensors and Geospatial’s cloud-based GIS platform, GeoUnderground, it looks like the goal is highly attainable.
- What are specific challenges to mapping underground utilities?
The most obvious challenge is that the pipelines and conduits are underground or underwater and that makes the selection of the data acquisition methodology very important. I like to say that the difference between locating and mapping is pretty straight forward. Locators attempt to “clear” an area for a specific reason, such as in preparation for a construction project. At Geospatial Corporation, we approach a project in a very “holistic” manner. We know there is no “silver bullet” that will allow us to accurately map every type of buried infrastructure within a facility, right of way or municipality. We know that we need to use many types of data acquisition technologies to obtain a complete “picture” or “map” of the underground. In addition, getting this vast amount of data properly into a GIS platform from the field, often with numerous techs collecting below and above ground over large areas is in itself a trick. For this we have developed GeoUnderground, our proprietary cloud-based GIS platform built on Google Maps. GeoUnderground provides an economical, SaaS based, powerful yet very simple to use GIS Platform accessible from any phone. Our goal is to have every data acquisition tool seamlessly integrate into GeoUnderground.
- What solutions do you provide to achieve goals?
At Geospatial we consider our data acquisition technologies to be simply “sensors on a platform”. The platform could be designed to run inside of a pipeline or conduit and have various types of gyroscopic or electromagnetic sensors. These technologies are extremely accurate under most conditions and allow us to accurately map in x,y&z pipelines and conduits as small as 1.5 inches in diameter to 20 feet in diameter. These technologies are often used on projects for telecom, (Such as AT&T, Comcast & Verizon). This is also applicable for sewers, gas lines and numerous other types of infrastructure. We have developed a method of combining technologies to geo-reference the video collected inside a pipeline during periodic inspections. This allows the pipeline owner to locate any defects within the pipeline, providing an exact xy&z location of the defect. This also allows the video data to be stored and viewed, edited and shared on GeoUnderground. We are constantly looking for new types of data acquisition and data management technologies to be added to GeoUnderground. To this end, we are creating strategic alliances with numerous sensor companies.
- Are you creating a map of the world’s underground infrastructure and if so, when do you think that will be completed and how will it be maintained?
Yes, our slogan is that we are creating a map of the world’ underground, one pipeline at a time. In reality we are aggregating data of behalf of our clients that is slowly, but surely creating a map of the underground. As more and more of our clients realize the benefits of mapping and knowing the location of their critical assets, the mitigation of risk and the ROI obtainable from sophisticated analysis, they will accelerate the mapping of their underground and above ground assets. More and more infrastructure stakeholders are beginning to plan to map their entire facility.
- How do Blockchain technologies figure in?
It’s a massive undertaking to attempt to map the underground. Just as we are constantly finding new sensor applications, we are also exploring new software applications utilizing Blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
- How do you renovate or replace utility structures that are underwater?
Geospatial doesn’t repair or replace pipelines, but we do have several ways to map pipelines underwater involving either our gyroscopic technologies and our electromagnetic technologies. We have successfully mapped a telecom conduit under the East River in New York City, also the Harlem River in NYC, The Savanna River in Georgia, the Inner Coastal Waterway in Charleston, along with many other rivers and lakes across the USA.
- What do you think will be the result of mapping the outdated infrastructure, and how might it be maintained or retrofit using your data?
A few years back, no one would have guessed that all of the above ground infrastructure would have been digitally mapped, from the air, from un-manned drones or from the streets. The underground infrastructure is the last unmapped frontier. We can only begin to speculate the many uses and benefits derived from having an accurate 3D map of the underground. Smart City initiatives, increasing Federal and state requirements for gas & oil pipelines, an abundance of new sensors creating the Internet of Things and the ability to run risk analysis on critical pipelines all require management to know the exact position and depth of our critical infrastructure.