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DUConnect @ Geo Connect Asia 2023: Advancing subsurface utility mapping for construction and asset management

On 15 March 2023, the second DUConnect expert stage was organized at the Geo Connect Asia conference.


Part I: Building, maintaining, and delivering better maps of the underground for construction and asset management


In the first of two sub-sessions, speakers and panelists discussed their approach, challenges, and solutions towards developing comprehensive 3D maps of subsurface utilities for various jurisdictions and areas. The session was moderated by Ms Chong Yoke Sim, Principal Director of Business Development at Accenture.



Development of a 3D Underground Utilities Database to facilitate construction works in Hong Kong

Presentation by Ms Yvonne Cheu, Executive Director at AECOM


In her presentation, Yvonne provided an overview and update on Hong Kong’s Underground Utilities Information System (UUIS) that is currently under exploration and development by AECOM in Hong Kong and commissioned by the government’s Lands Department (LandsD). The base layer of the system consists of a standardized and harmonised database of all utility data from utility asset owners. By utilizing open trench excavations and capturing site observations and 3D point cloud data, the data in the database is updated regularly. Furthermore, BIM data is provided for new developments. The system currently provides basic functions such as 2D and 3D viewing, location- and attribute-based queries, and spatial analysis. Database intitialisation is expected to be completed soon for the entire HKSAR area.


Collaboration Underground: Uniting project teams through a 3D digital twin of underground Wellington

Presentation by Mr Sam Wiffen, CEO and Founder at Reveal


Sam Wiffen presented RevealTwin, a software solution developed by Reveal for bringing together subsurface utility data from various sources. The RevealTwin solution is currently actively being used by the City of Wellington, where theoretical locations along with the results from nondestructive and open trench surveys are being consolidated onto a single platform and made available to professionals planning, designing, and executing construction works in the city. Underlying the RevealTwin is a dedicated data model that describes data quality and other relevant attributes such as the survey method used, and that can be used to link other supporting observations such as photographs taken on-site during survey. Currently, the RevealTwin is expected to be utilized for consolidating utility information for a major highway development project.


Building a Digital Underground Changi Airport to transform engineering asset management

Presentation by Mr Seoh Zhi Wen, General Manager, Innovation and Process Enhancement at Changi Airport Group


In his presentation, Mr Seoh highlighted the importance of building and maintaining comprehensive digital twins of aboveground and subsurface assets at Changi Airport to support their asset management strategy. Changi Airport Group is currently still exploring what data needs to be modelled and with which quality. However, they have experimented with point cloud data capture and augmented reality visualization techniques and are currently looking at ways to convert their 2D CAD drawings to 3D models.


Panel discussion

The three speakers were joined by Datuk Sr Bernard Liew, Director of Lands and Surveys Sabah at Sabah Lands and Survey Department for a short panel discussion. The discussion was moderated by Ms Chong. Below is a summary of key points from the presentations and panel discussion:


  • Where Singapore used to be one of the first jurisdictions to start developing a 3D digital underground map, other jurisdictions across the globe are making significant steps towards achieving similar goals.

  • There are no quick and easy ways of obtaining a complete and accurate 3D map or model of all underground utilities within a large area. Therefore, it is important to simply start somewhere and improve practices and data quality over time.

  • Due to an increased interest in reliable subsurface utility mapping, interesting avenues are opening up for entrepreneurs to develop new solutions for the mapping and visualization of subsurface utility data.


Sponsor presentation: Trimble Solutions for Subsurface Reality Capture


Between the two sub-sessions and before the tea break, Benjamin Lim, Regional Technical Sales Manager at Trimble Inc presented an overview of solutions for subsurface reality capture. These include GNSS systems for direct observation, GNSS rovers that can be combined with reality capture solutions such as IT34 SmartSurvey, and SiteVision for augmented reality visualization on site. Benjamin demonstrated these solutions using results captured during pilot activities conducted by the Digital Underground project team.


Part II: Best practices, applications, and technology innovations

In the second half of the expert stage, speakers and panelists discussed technological advances and their application for subsurface utility mapping. The session was moderated by Ms Anjusha Sandeep Nair, Principal Architect at Google Maps.



The future of Underground Imaging: Cloud solutions to drive consistency and reliability

Presentation by Dr Jan Francke, Co-founder at Geolitix


Dr Jan Francke, an expert with over 32 years of experience in developing and using ground penetrating radar (GPR) solutions, shared his views on recent developments in the industry and what he believes are to be the most relevant. He described the increasing availability and accessibility of high-end solutions such as GPR arrays and the risks that exist due to overselling by solution providers. However, because the basic laws of physics cannot be changed, these developments should be evaluated appropriately. Developments that are likely to have an impact are data density enabled due to automated data collection, fusion of multiple types of sensors (GPR, electromagnetic location, and magnetometry), and cloud-based software solutions such as Geolitix, which enable the development of standardized workflows and live collaboration around a single source of truth. These standardized workflows ultimately create consistency and reliable results.


Underground Scanning Using Drone Electromagnetic Survey

Presentation by Mr Kojima Masashi, Innovation Lead Asia Digital Lab at Obayashi Corp


Mr Kojima presented a prototype solution for collecting continuous 3D geotechnical information on the underground. A challenge with conventional boring is that it produces 2D discontinuous analog information. To collect 3D information, Obayashi Corp developed a drone to perform airborne electromagnetic surveys that could be used to collect dense, continuous data from difficult-to-access areas. The solution was tested in Singapore in 2022 and a comprehensive 3D resistivity model was created from the collected data.


Standardising nondestructive utility survey methods

Presentation by Assoc Prof Dr Ir Wallace Wai-Lok, Associate Professor at Hong Kong PolyU


Dr Wallace Lai presented a summary of work conducted in Hong Kong towards standardizing subsurface utility mapping workflows. These include the development of accuracy guidelines, the standardization of underground utility survey methods, and the accreditation of service providers. To support these activities, a new training center was established for subsurface utility survey and mapping along with various training courses. Dr Lai concluded his presentation with an overview of examples that demonstrate human biases in subsurface utility surveying, underlining the importance of standardization to facilitate communication and common understanding between stakeholders.



Panel discussion

Dr Jan Francke and Dr Wallace Lai were joined by Benjamin Lim (Trimble) and Shane Shi (Managing Director at HSC Pipeline Engineering) for the concluding panel discussion. The discussion was moderated by Ms Sandeep Nair. Below is a summary of key points from the presentations and panel discussion:


  • Recent and ongoing developments in subsurface utility surveying and mapping technologies are enabling users to collect data at higher speed, volume, and density. These solutions are becoming increasingly accessible, with more and often non-expert users wielding them. For example, this has lead to Mr Shi adopting 3D reality capture and GPR solutions in his practices.

  • The increased adoption and growing ecosystem of technology solutions, along with the importance to consistently produce reliable results (this applies to nationwide application in particular), establishes a strong need for standardization of subsurface utility surveying and mapping workflows. By describing a consistent approach towards data production, results become more reliable. Furthermore, software solutions such as Geolitix can enable transparency of these processes and quality control.

  • For Singapore to develop a subsurface utility mapping industry that consistently produces reliable data, Hong Kong can be considered a good example. It shows that, besides standards, extensive efforts and resources are required to build the required capabilities and keep them at a sufficiently high level.


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