Every year, in excess of four million holes are dug in the nation's roads to repair leaks, provide connecting services to new premises and to lay new cables and pipes. Although recently installed assets may have been well mapped, location data on older services can be very poor, in some cases even non existent (except perhaps knowing the location of the terminating points). Some of the holes are unnecessary (dug in the wrong place owing to insufficient or wrong data), some cause third party damage to other underground services (or even first party damage!). More importantly, there are also considerable indirect costs owing to disruption on the roads caused by works, waste, and pollution.
Following a Sandpit in the EPSRC Ideas Factory programme, Leeds received EPSRC funding to investigate the construction of a unified database of all the location data from the various various utilities. Constructing such a unified database is challenging owing to the current state of the records, which are frequently inaccurate, incomplete and sometimes not available in digital form.
A follow on grant, Visualising integrated information on buried assets to reduce streetworks (VISTA), was funded under the DTI Technology Programme (now the Technology Strategy Board (TSB)/InnovateUK, and provides some £630k of funding at Leeds, £268k at Nottingham University to build on the initial EPSRC funding, in collaboration with 22 utility and other partners in the sector. Both these projects have now finished, and a system, called VAULT, is now live across Scotland implementing the technology developed at Leeds delivering real time access to integrated utility records. A Youtube video demonstrating the live implementation of the VISTA project now in operation throughout Scotland, giving real time access to underground assets can be found here. The VAULT system won the Built Environment category of the IET Innovation Awards 2012 and was "Highly Commended" in the Information Technology category. VAULT also came joint first in the 2012 NJUG Awards in the "Avoiding Damage" category.
Other projects funded by the initial EPSRC "sandpit" initiative investigated improved sensing technology, cm accurate positioning, and techniques for ensuring that assets buried in the future can be found more easily. The projects were linked by a network with industrial participation.A further grant, Mapping the Underworld 2, was funded by the EPSRC to build a multi sensor device, and to fuse the sensor data with the expectations from the integrated maps created using the technology researched and developed in VISTA and Mapping The Underworld 1 projects. Further details can be found here. A You Tube video explaining the concepts behind MTU can be found here.
Publications and datasets from the MTU, ATU, VISTA and NetTUN projects can be found here.