New Jersey Utility Uses Augmented Reality to Visualise Underground Infrastructure

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vGIS, a new geographic information system (GIS) visualisation platform from the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri) partner Meemim, is being used to view underground infrastructure while wearing Microsoft Hololens. Piloted by Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority in New Jersey, the technology is a practical application of augmented reality, allowing the user to ‘see’ utility lines under the street in real-time.

According to the report on Esri’s ArcNews publication, the system uses Meemim’s geocalibration process to accurately align the rendered visuals to the physical world, anchoring to visible GIS features such as sewer manholes. The vGIS interface supports voice commands and hand gestures, which allows fieldworkers to operate hands free as they retrieve information about the overhead and underground utilities. This real-time view of energy and drainage lines brings obvious benefits to planning and maintaining essential infrastructure in towns and cities.

Image courtesy Meemim Inc.

“We are dealing with five or six utility lines underneath a street,” said Len Bundra, GIS director for Toms River MUA. “We have to locate our utility lines so that when we dig up a street, we are confidently aware of all other utilities around us. Given a more dynamic situation—a car hits a telephone pole, the pole collapses onto the street—seven separate agencies are on scene, each viewing [its] own GIS utilities on separate devices. What I am trying to do is provide all field personnel with one common interface to see all underground utilities beneath their feet—[so] one shared vision via a shared interface.”

Toms River MUA was the first client of Meemim, startup partner of GIS giant Esri, collaborating for eight months to bring their GIS data and the new AR technologies together. According to a report on T&D World, TRMUA already had its GIS data online through Esri’s ArcGIS platform, which Meemim could upload to its cloud service to be converted and delivered to the HoloLens in real-time.

Launched on January 14th, vGIS is a new platform for advanced visualisation of GIS across many devices, including augmented reality hardware. Its first product, vGIS Utilities, is already being used in many towns and cities to optimise essential municipal services.

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The trial version of Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness probably had something to do with it. And certainly the original Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo. A car nut from an early age, Dominic was always drawn to racing games above all other genres. Now a seasoned driving simulation enthusiast, and former editor of Sim Racer magazine, Dominic has followed virtual reality developments with keen interest, as cockpit-based simulation is a perfect match for the technology. Conditions could hardly be more ideal, a scientist once said. Writing about simulators lead him to Road to VR, whose broad coverage of the industry revealed the bigger picture and limitless potential of the medium. Passionate about technology and a lifelong PC gamer, Dominic suffers from the ‘tweak for days’ PC gaming condition, where he plays the same section over and over at every possible combination of visual settings to find the right balance between fidelity and performance. Based within The Fens of Lincolnshire (it’s very flat), Dominic can sometimes be found marvelling at the real world’s ‘draw distance’, wishing virtual technologies would catch up.
  • NickCoombe

    This is a killer app for AR – nice!

    • J.C.

      No kidding. We’ve had a LOT of utilities hit by contractors running fiber. One of the companies was banned from two municipalities because of it. something like this could have probably kept most, if not all, of their damage from happening.

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  • theonlyrealconan

    Will there be a clown down there?

    • Harald Heide Gundersen

      There might be, if you go visit :-)

    • AnotherCog

      If you look up and notice a red balloon floating above you, don’t look down.

  • Michael Romilly

    Great article. If you’re interested in learning more about the role and capabilities of AR technology in utilities, specifically within the oil and gas sector, check this out: