Blog Archive

Using geospatial augmented reality to locate underground assets

Posted: Thursday 27 February, 2014

Augmented reality (AR) is one of the new big tech buzz words that promises to be even more disruptive than the introduction of the internet. But have you ever heard of GEO AR (Geospatial Augmented Reality)?

Before we dive into what GEO AR is all about,- let me introduce Augview to you. Augview is the world’s 1st mobile asset management app that utilises GEO AR to help manage underground infrastructure. The software development company Augview Ltd was founded by the successful GIS entrepreneur and visionary Mike Bundock who is the Director and CEO of Augview Ltd as well as a director of Spatial Information Systems Ltd. He has worked in the GIS industry since 1979 and been involved in multiple successful start-ups and GIS product developments.

Out of frustration that the field crews were still using paper plans to locate their assets when almost everyone had access to a sophisticated handheld device, Mike investigated the sensors of the latest mobile technology and introduced a prototype of a mobile GEO AR asset management app at the Smallworld user conferences in NZ and Australia. The idea was well received, Augview was born and is now spreading across the globe to assist companies and field crews to manage and locate their underground assets.

Back to GEO AR and it’s usefulness in locating and managing assets….

With advances in computer vision, digital cameras are an increasingly popular mechanism for obtaining accurate measurements, permitting, i.e. tracking of objects or device pose respectively. However, low end cameras as found in phones in general do not easily allow us to achieve the same performance as industrial, or upmarket consumer cameras.

GEO AR uses GIS data to position 3D objects in real space. The latest smartphones and tablets incorporate various sensors, including a magnetometer (digital compass), GPS, accelerometer and a gyroscope. With these sensors the device can determine both its position and orientation of the user. Hence it knows in which direction the device’s camera is facing, and is able to track its movements left to right and up and down. Utilising all of these sensors, Augview can display the 3D infrastructure models over the live video feed while the user is walking and moving around in their environment. The received data is a live feed from the asset owners server which consequently gets translated into 3D models that simulate the underground infrastructure where it occurs.

“But what about GPS accuracy…” I hear you ask?

The GPS technology is progressing very swiftly and rapidly. At the moment, with suitable sampling and averaging techniques, the GPS accuracy of consumer devices can be as good as +/-50cm which is roughly the equivalent of 2 shovel widths. Enough to dig a hole and find the cable. We think that is enough to get started and find what you are looking for. However, new affordable GPS sensors, incorporating real time correction, and accuracies of approximately +/-10cm, will be on the market in a few months, e.g. Piksi. .

So what other benefits does GEO AR bring? Augview simplifies reading utility maps. The user has the choice of viewing the underground infrastructure as a traditional, but digital 2D map that can be interrogated for it’s attribute information or the data can be viewed in AR mode which allows the user to walk up to assets, interrogate what they are, who the owner is, etc. It is also much more obvious what cable is on top of what asset and how they are located in relation to each other when you look at assets in AR mode. You can make better informed decisions because you see the assets where they occur.

“What if the asset depth is unknown” is another typical question we get. In most cases the asset owner is aware of the default depth at which the asset had been originally buried. Of course we all know the ground moves, - in particularly in New Zealand. This is where updating attributes in the field comes in handy. Any updated information is getting instantly fed to the asset owner server and is therefore available to the rest of the team that very moment.

Knowledge transfer is becoming a bigger issue as the staff turnover increases and your senior team members prepare for retirement. That’s why the 2D map and the AR view were designed to allow the user to update information, capture missing data, - and in particular, add GPS tagged photos of open trenches. How many times do you see the ground being dug up, assets are being found and identified only to then fill the trench back up and the information is lost? Every open trench holds valuable information you want to be able to access when you come back to that location to reinstall, upgrade or maintain the assets under ground. The Augview team developed a geotagged photo feature that links the photo to an asset and it’s GPS position. The next step is to utilise GEO AR functionality to map the taken photo on the ground as if the trench was still open.

GEO AR adds clear advantages to working with and maintaining assets. The GIS database attributes can be used to show the various lifecycle stages the assets are at which assist in making informed decisions whether to upgrade assets in a particular area or fix them.

If you have permission to view other asset owners data in your area you will be able to quote quicker and more accurately because you can see the assets where they occur and how they relate to the surroundings. It is much easier to make informed decisions that way. It also means you never have to wait for current maps and plans because all the information you require is at your fingertips thanks to the internet.

But then there are areas which don’t have internet! What then? Remember James Bond? Well, the Augview team got inspired by the theme and time-bombed downloaded data. Consequently the user is able to download a defined area of a location and sets the timer when the data will expire. The user will get various reminders as the clock counts down and eventually the data will self-destruct.

The opportunity GEO AR holds gets even more exciting when we look at bigger and more complex models. A user can upload a life-size model of a proposed architecture piece or construction model and use it either for project planning, pitching or project management. By applying GEO AR the user can view the property or over ground asset in location and he or she will be able to walk inside and explore as if it was really there. In construction this is a useful tool for sales presentations in location, it increases quote accuracy because the viewer gets a clear idea where the proposed construction is going to be, what it will interfere with and what it will look like. If you are a to-be-home-builder, you can even double check the view from the ground floor windows.

Augview has a lot to offer and what I mentioned here is only scratching on the surface. Our team loves working with cutting edge technology and we are driven by assisting the work force out there to have a safer and digitally advanced work environment. The young generation has grown up with digital gadgets and tools and most of them are already well aware of other standard AR applications. GEO AR adds a new dimension to how we work. Augview has invested in a start-up called Meta who is developing AR glasses which are designed to recognise gesture interaction just like you may have seen in the movie “Minority Report”.

The future is already here and we are right at the forefront.

Augview on multiple devices

Watch our video and get a glimpse of what is possible.

To discuss this topic or augmented reality in general, please comment on our LinkedIn page or contact Melanie directly at  

Posted by Melanie Langlotz
Tags: augmented reality, GEO AR, spatial data, Augview
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