Power failures. Flooding. Internet down. The consequences of excavation damage can be felt every three minutes. The Netherlands has 1.7 million kilometres of underground cables and lines which are regularly damaged in the course of excavation work for example on the water and electricity supply. Documentation of the underground infrastructure is inaccurate, resulting in 35,000 damage events each year at a cost of 25 million euros. MapXact and Gasunie are working on a solution that will make what is in the ground visible without the need for digging: the ground scanner.
Safer, faster, cheaper
The idea is simple. The easiest way of avoiding excavation damage is to stop digging. Scanning the ground is less work than digging a test trench and moreover avoids nuisance and hazardous situations such as gas leaks. In addition local residents are spared the noisy machinery involved in excavation work.
Peering into the soil
The ground scanner uses electromagnetic waves to create a cross-section of the ground. But whereas it currently still takes specialists a few days to interpret a ground radar scan, the ground scanner will be able to process the raw data within minutes. “We are developing software that automatically recognises objects such as cables and lines and classifies materials,” explains MapXact director Gerben Roseboom. The first milestone was reached before the summer: in a Gasunie test field the software showed the location of a gas pipe with great accuracy. In addition to object recognition the programmers are also working on the user interface of the device. Gerben: “The results will soon be clearly visible with 3D glasses, a smartphone or tablet, making the ground scanner easy to use for non-specialists as well.”
The Netherlands from below
From industrial designers and software developers to radar specialists and universities: a growing team of specialists in the Netherlands and abroad is working on various aspects of the development of the ground scanner. MapXact is also in talks with grid operators and sector organisations to sort out the legislation and regulations for the ground scanner. “Our aim is for a ‘virtual test trench’ to be considered the same as an actual test trench from a legal perspective,” explains Gerben. This is an important condition for the future envisaged by MapXact. The ambition is for everyone who works in the ground to eventually be using the ground scanner. Gerben: “It saves a huge amount of time and nuisance if you no longer need to dig. Plus, by saving all the data centrally we can create a map of what is under the Dutch surface. That would be really great!”
A good idea
“What I enjoy most is listening to clients, working creatively and coming up with solutions. That’s why I love working for VolkerWessels. There is plenty of room for innovation and renewal. If you have a good idea, you can get ahead quickly.”
- Gerben Roseboom, director of MapXact