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Underdots: A rapid new visualisation of the underground

Unknown linear features visible in Underdots converging at a central point requiring further investigative action to remove risks. Image: Reveal.

Reveal, New Zealand’s leading underground utility locating technology company, has developed a solution that could see wait times for usable data depictions reduced to a matter of hours.

In the planning and design phases of infrastructure projects, commissioning underground utility surveys to find unknown buried utilities is vital. 

The inevitably labour-intensive nature of this field makes surveys time-consuming and expensive, but depending on the scope of the project, it can take months for designers to receive full depictions of underground risks, in part due to data that requires specialists to dissect and analyse ground-penetrating radar (GPR) reflections captured by the investigating ground crews.

A new software product, Underdots, looks set to revolutionise this process by massively speeding up the data analysis of underground utility detections. 

Utility locators draw upon GPR as one of the key tools for detecting underground utilities. 

The radar units, which can have single or multiple antennas, send a radar signal into the ground and measure the time span of the reflections back from the subsurface, as well as their intensity and the difference from neighbouring regions. 

The output from these GPR units looks a bit like a sonogram, with data recorded in slices as the unit travels over the ground.

Underdots is an online data processing service that creates a point-cloud visualisation from GPR data. 

Clustered dots plotted in a 3D mapping environment show the intensity and depth of radar reflections, which can reveal the presence or absence of underground utilities in large areas.

ABOVE AND BELOW: Underdots detections showing the presence of buried tram tracks with both sleepers and rails visible. Image: Reveal.
ABOVE AND BELOW: Underdots detections showing the presence of buried tram tracks with both sleepers and rails visible. Image: Reveal.

Underdots has proven compatibility with the most popular multi-channel GPR models from Kontur and IDS but should work with all 3D GPR arrays.

Users simply upload their raw GPR data from their units to the Underdots cloud service. 

The data is automatically processed and added to a GIS project with a publicly-available or customer-supplied digital elevation model applied.

The resulting visualisation is an intuitive, 3D model that gives designers clear indications of areas to avoid. 

Project Managers can compare the Underdots visualisation to existing utility plans to determine where further invasive investigations such as potholing should be conducted. 

This includes ‘green flag’ regions where the Underdots detections match the expected findings.

Underdots in action

Underdots has already been used successfully on major infrastructure projects throughout New Zealand, demonstrating considerable value as projects were able to revise designs prior to breaking ground, saving potentially thousands of dollars in construction costs.

For example, in the Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport project in Wellington, New Zealand, 12,000 metres of buried tram tracks were identified under a busy commuter road that would have caused major delays to the project if left undetected.

A similar incident was identified in Auckland during preliminary surveying for the Eastern Busway Project, where the city is upgrading its transport links. Underdots detected an unknown object underneath a busy intersection that wasn’t indicated on any ‘as builts’ provided by the local asset owners. 


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This early detection enabled the project designers to rework designs to accommodate for the obstruction, saving significant cost and time to the project and the public. Aside from detecting unknown obstructions in the underground, Underdots is also able to confirm the existence of utilities. 

This can give designers an idea of whether their current plans from asset owners are accurate or whether there is a significant difference between the detection and the original plans. 

Outside of New Zealand, Underdots has now been trialled internationally with major projects in Australia and Singapore receiving positive feedback. 

Projects have been able to allocate their resources more effectively and reduced the amount of project overruns due to earlier understanding of utility risks. 

Reveal is now launching Underdots worldwide, with the service available to all utility locators and contractors with a compatible radar unit. 

Expert insights

Tim Rastall, Chief Technology Officer at Reveal says the platform provides access to what was previously inaccessible insights about sub-surface data.

“Mass radar data collection tools have rapidly improved over the past 10 years, but interpretation and visualisation of the raw radar data has remained expensive and time-consuming,” he says. 

“Underdots leverages the fast cloud computational resources we have available to process raw radar data into a format that is useful and can provide immediate actionable insights for designers and consulting engineers at the design and planning phase of their projects.” 

The key insights from Underdots result from being able to compare the geophysical investigation data with existing utility plan information in a single environment. 

“The Underdots visualisation is great for confirming the location of utilities, but more often we are finding evidence of utilities in areas where the plans say there shouldn’t be anything at all,” Rastall says. 

Underdots can help prioritise the investigations budget for further invasive potholing or trenches, saving thousands of dollars in the process.”

Underdots is the first component of many technology products being developed by Reveal. 

Reveal has grown from a service locating company to the leading utility locating company in New Zealand with a growing client base internationally. 

Its mission is to revolutionise the infrastructure industry and create the ‘Google Maps’ of the underground to ensure infrastructure projects can manage their utility risks effectively, creating a safer, more sustainable industry for the future. 

This article was originally published in the December edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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