Dig with confidence

Scientists with the Electric Power Research Institute and Schlumberger have developed a radar system that can detect, locate, and create three-dimensional images of underground features.

The new system is said to enable utility, construction, and other underground infrastructure companies to create 3-D maps of the complex array of underground electric, gas, water, and communication lines that lie beneath the streets.

Armed with up-to-date information about the location of these structures, companies can now better manage, maintain, and build new underground networks that serve business centres and residential areas alike.

Field demonstrations of the radar system in New York, San Diego, and other urban areas have proven the ability of the new system to create 3-D images of objects at depths as great as 10 feet under most conditions.

‘The growing economy has placed new pressures on underground utility infrastructure,’ said Ralph Bernstein, a technical leader at EPRI. ‘This new radar system will help energy companies improve underground planning and maintenance as well as avoid disruptive construction accidents.’

The new ground-penetrating imaging radar uses existing ground-penetrating radar technology, but combines 3-D data collection with precise positioning control and advanced imaging software to create 3-D radar images.

Ground-penetrating radar technology uses a transmitting antenna to send a high-frequency radar pulse into the ground. When the radar pulse encounters a buried object, such as metal and plastic pipe or rock, the object reflects the pulse back to the surface where it is picked up by a receiving antenna.

The radar system moves the antennas along the ground surface, and the timing of the radar pulses from transmitting to receiving antenna can be used to detect, locate, and map underground objects.

A key enhancement to existing GPIR technology is advanced image processing software that creates a ‘mathematical lens’ to focus the raw radar echoes and convert them into realistic 3-D images of underground objects.