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DUConnect #2: Data Capture for a Reliable Digital Twin

On 11 December 2019, the second edition of Digital Underground Connect took place at the Digital Advancement Academies Hub in Singapore. The contents of the event were curated around the themes of data capture and data quality, highlighting various methods and techniques for capturing reliable data of underground utilities, its depiction, and its regulation. We were happy to see familiar faces from DUConnect #1 among the participants while also welcoming new attendees representing utility owners, developers, surveyors, and technology providers.


How gyro-based mapping technology can improve the accuracy of underground utility infrastructure as-built data

The first speaker of the event was Otto Ballintijn, CEO of Reduct NV, a company that specialises in the development of highly innovative and accurate gyroscopic mapping technology. In his presentation, Otto made a strong case for building underground assets according to plan and subsequently mapping them accurately, and that anything less should not be tolerated. This is necessary not just for accurately locating the buried assets themselves in the future, but perhaps more importantly so for the benefit of managing underground space itself, treating it as an increasingly scarce asset that must be preserved whenever possible - and its use optimised.

Treating underground space as an asset, Otto argued, requires fundamental changes in how we treat and think about our underground space, starting upstream at a strategic level in master planning, all the way downstream to development, where building permits define clear accuracy levels and as-built drawings are established with accurate techniques and subsequently verified. He remarked that Singapore has already taken important first steps by signifying the need to go underground in its latest Master Plan and the Standards and Specifications for Utility Survey in Singapore, released by the Singapore Land Authority in 2017.

Otto’s presentation can be downloaded here.


A standard for classifying Australian underground assets: Development and implementation of AS5488

Up next was Ian Lambert to take the stage. As the owner of Lambert Locations Ltd., Ian is a highly experienced utility surveyor and locator based in Brisbane, Australia. He is President of Nulca, the National Utility Locating Contractors Association of Australia, and strongly involved in Australia’s utility mapping ecosystem as a certifier of utility locators and co-developer of the Australian Standard 5488 for Classification of Subsurface Utility Information. 

The AS5488 standards were developed to provide a uniform guideline for classifying subsurface utility information, enabling consistent acquisition of information, and to indicate the degree of confidence in provided information. The standards provide a system for the classification of quality, ranging from D (based on historical records only) to A (absolute spatial location), and define which methods of service location can be used to capture information at which quality level. Ian described the extensive process of developing well-supported standards involving many stakeholders and development iterations. 

A key point that stressed by Ian was the importance of depicting confidence in information instead of accuracy itself. which is often difficult to depict in absolute terms. He also emphasised that consistency and repeatability of data acquisition methods are important factors to consider when developing standards and quality levels. He concluded with the observation that the standards not only resulted in a common language for depicting quality, but also positively contribute towards education of and communication between stakeholders, helping them to decide which information to capture for a specific purpose.

Ian’s presentation can be downloaded here.

After the workshop we have interviewed both speakers. You can view the recordings below.


Workshop: Towards a reliable digital twin of the underground

The event was concluded with a workshop. Following the key topics and challenges identified in DUConnect #1, participants built upon those results by describing the use cases and benefits of a reliable digital twin of the underground, and were asked to share what they think would be necessary to realise it. Turning the perspective around, participants were asked to become the devil’s advocate and discuss why they think a reliable digital twin may ultimately never be realised, identifying "unsurmountable" challenges. Listed below are some key points captured from the workshop.

Why do we need a reliable digital twin of the underground?

  1. Planning - better allocation of space for future needs; less wastage of space and loss of opportunity; reduction of time for investigation; better utilisation of assets (space and infrastructure)

  2. Development and construction - increased productivity; time reduction; efficient project execution; reduction of subjective interpretation of underground asset information; utility strike avoidance; worker safety

  3. Asset management - efficient maintenance, repair, and recovery response; better and faster identification of fault locations

Participants noted that, even though a reliable digital twin is expected to result in better decisions and increased efficiency, ultimately, it will be of benefit to the satisfaction of residents and business in Singapore. 

What is needed to make a reliable digital twin of the underground reality?

  • Regulation and enforcement of data capture and data sharing.

  • Clearly defined responsibilities for data quality.

  • Agencies and companies that own underground assets are required to govern data quality.

  • Transparent and easy access to data.

  • Funding to develop new capabilities.

Identifying key challenges: Why will a reliable digital twin of the underground never be realised?

  • Cost and time savings will always be prioritised over reliable data (capture).

  • Cost-driven mentality by responsible stakeholders, not fully realising the greater benefits.

  • Lack of courage and readiness to take risks.

  • Lack of capabilities (awareness, skills, technology) among utility owners, contractors, and surveyors.

We thank the speakers and the participants for their valuable contributions. Are you keen to join the next DUConnect event? Subscribe to our mailing list to stay informed!


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