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Augmented Reality and Underground Utilities

When you think of drains, sewers or underground pipe networks, you almost certainly don’t think of cutting-edge technology or computer-generated visual information. Why would you? Well, in the near future, the rise of augmented reality might be changing the way we think about – and look at – our sewer systems. How? Read on to find out.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality technology superimposes computer-generated images and information on a live, real world view. It’s a way to overlay relevant information about what somebody is seeing in real time, providing them with various levels of insight into an object, area, structure or specific location.

From a utilities, maintenance, engineering and diagnostic point of view, augmented reality could be a versatile and invaluable tool in an infinite number of scenarios.

Augmented reality and drains

So what about drains? How does augmented reality help when approaching sewers, underground pipework and drainage systems? Simply put: in a lot of ways.

In practice, an augmented view of a drainage system allows a drainage engineer to follow a sewer network without ever dipping their toes underground. Here’s a use case:

An engineer is called out to investigate an emergency drain issue. The problem could be a blockage or structural damage to a pipe somewhere along the system. The engineer uses augmented reality equipment to receive a clear and accurate view of the pipes running under the street. With this information, the engineer can locate the relevant pipes, and  plan an inspection easily. If drilling/excavation is necessary, this overlay will help them select the best possible location to begin drilling.

Utilities maintenance

The potential for augmented reality is huge; it is being touted as a revolutionary construction, medical, engineering, maintenance and even entertainment technology. For utilities maintenance, having an augmented reality view of pipelines means construction and repairs can be carried out more efficiently.

Planning and response to issues can be performed with greater awareness of surrounding utilities, so that minimal disruption occurs during these works.

Safety

Using augmented reality software will also help keep workers safe on the job. Not only can they plan ahead of time around potential hazards underground – ensuring they don’t interfere with gas lines, electricity cables etc. – but it also reduces the need for workers to physically go underground.

CCTV surveys already help to minimise this risk, but for larger scale works, having a detailed overview to work from before any work has taken place is of immense value.

The future of drainage

While we’re still a way off from widespread, mainstream adoption, augmented reality is seeing use today in the underground utilities service. The technology has been demonstrated on-site, and has been used for small scale works – such as marking the location of utility lines.

For the world of drainage, augmented reality certainly has a place, and it will be fascinating to monitor how the technology advances in the future. Will it be a common site for drainage engineers to reach for this kit from the back of their vans? Or will the tech prove to be too unwieldy, expensive or unreliable to use?

To an extent, the technology will rely on accurate records and databases to pull the visual information from. If a city doesn’t have an extensive database to relay the location of pipes and utilities, then this will need to be improved first, or the tech may not be feasible.

In reality, only time will tell.

ClearFirst Drainage provide a range of reliable drainage services including emergency drain repairs, drain cleaning, unblocking and maintenance works. We work promptly to identify and resolve your issue to the best of our abilities, and our team is on hand to provide all the advice you need to keep your drains operating smoothly. To find out more or to arrange a visit from out drainage technicians, contact us today.

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