Going underground

Mar 22, 2006

A major project to create 3D underground maps of the UK has begun, which will save the UK millions of pounds in road maintenance.

The first 3D maps of the UK underworld are to be created in a new £2.2m project which will save the UK millions of pounds by reducing the amount we dig up our roads.

There are enough pipes and cables buried under our streets to stretch to the moon and back ten times, but we don’t know where many of them are. Researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Nottingham will help to locate them, by finding a way to integrate existing digital and paper-based records and link these with data from satellite and ground-based positioning systems.

They aim to bring all this information together in a format that’s easy to understand for contractors, utility companies and planners – so it can be displayed visually on a PC in the office or handheld unit in the street.

Four million holes are dug each year in the nation’s road – one every seven seconds – to repair pipes and cables or install new ones, at an estimated cost of £1bn per annum. With indirect costs, such as congestion, this rises to an estimated £5bn p.a. – over £80 for every inhabitant of the UK.

By creating more accurate information, the project will help reduce the numbers of holes dug, ensure they are dug in the right place and that unexpected pipes and cables aren’t damaged in the process. Reducing roadworks by just 0.1% would save the UK economy millions of pounds a year.

Announcing £900,000 funding for the research from the DTI’s Technology Programme, Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury, heralded the project as ‘world beating’ and said it would help ‘develop a competitive advantage for British business’.

Leading the research at Leeds is Professor of Automated Reasoning, Tony Cohn. He said: “We’ll always need to dig holes in the street, but reducing the amount of roadworks would bring enormous economic and environmental benefits, with fewer traffic jams and exhaust emissions. From a human point of view, we also hope to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries every year from accidental hits on gas pipes and electrical cables.

“Many of the country’s underground pipes were laid in the 19th and early 20th century, when it wasn’t seen as important to keep accurate records of location and depth. Even where we have records, many are now very inaccurate, as reference points such as kerbs or buildings have moved or been demolished. And because each company has their own records there’s no easy way of providing an integrated view. Our aim is to create the technology to enable the construction of a dynamic map of all the UK’s underground assets.”

One of the challenges facing the researchers is to create a centimetre-accurate satellite-based location technology which can work even in ‘urban canyons’ to record in-street observations. Another challenge is linking these recordings to existing information held by each utility, to create a complete picture of what lies underground. The final step will be ensuring this information is provided to those who need it in a form that is accessible and comprehensible.

The research is being led by the University of Leeds, in collaboration with the University of Nottingham and 19 companies and organisations from the utilities, transport and engineering sectors and managed by UKWIR (UK Water Industry Research Ltd).

Source: University of Leeds

Explore further: Heavy metal frost? A new look at a Venusian mystery

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Voice search: Google has numbers on who, why, where

30 minutes ago

American teens are more likely to use voice search on their smartphones than are adults. About 55 percent of the 18-and-under crowd use Cortana, Google Voice Search or Siri more than once a day. While the majority ...

New health scans provide data on ancient mummies

3 hours ago

A mummy rolled down hospital hallways here on Sunday. Amen-Nestawy-Nakht, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian priest, was getting a CAT scan at Barnes-Jewish. It was probably his second. The lastonewas a couple of decades ago, when ...

Recommended for you

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

29 minutes ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

Big black holes can block new stars

2 hours ago

Massive black holes spewing out radio-frequency-emitting particles at near-light speed can block formation of new stars in aging galaxies, a study has found.

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

2 hours ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

POLARBEAR seeks cosmic answers in microwave polarization

2 hours ago

An international team of physicists has measured a subtle characteristic in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation that will allow them to map the large-scale structure of the universe, ...

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

2 hours ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

User comments : 0