Electronic Mapping Provides a Bird’s-Eye View of the Underground

GIS mapping and mapping accessories can help make pinpointing trouble spots easier

Electronic Mapping Provides a Bird’s-Eye View of the Underground

Personnel from the City of Richmond Utilities Department and Infrastructure Engineering Corporation review flow monitoring data using FlowWorks for a rain event at the City of Richmond Utilities Dept. in Richmond, California, March 11, 2016. (Photo by Lezlie Sterling)

Painting an accurate picture of underground utilities can be both challenging and time-consuming. But electronic mapping systems can help provide a detailed visual of the labyrinth of sewer laterals connecting into their systems.

One such system, the 3-D GeoSense from RapidView IBAK North America, allows municipalities to map lateral pipelines quickly and accurately in real time while performing a standard camera inspection. 

“A lot of cities will maintain a GIS map of all their mainlines,” says Matt Sutton, vice president of sales and marketing for RapidView IBAK North America, in a story appearing in the September issue of Municipal Sewer and Water magazine. “Now we can start to add the laterals to this. Because we’ve put a sensor on the front of the camera, we can map the lateral as the pushrod moves through the lateral in three-dimensional space.”

The unit can be used in push or lateral launch applications. A built-in sensor tracks the movement of the camera as it travels through the lateral, capturing distance, position and depth. The XYZ coordinates can be recorded when the camera is moving both forward and backward. Data is captured and displayed by third-party data logging software, such as WinCan VX.

“It could be part of their normal process,” Sutton says. “So when they look at the lateral visually with a camera, at the same time they are creating a three-dimensional file that can go right over their GIS, and they can have a three-dimensional model of their entire infrastructure.”

As a result, municipalities no longer have to locate laterals with an above-ground locator, making 3-D GeoSense an effective tool for cross-bore analysis. 

“It’s very useful for utilities,” Sutton says. “If you have to dig, you know exactly where it is. If it’s a gas boring company that has to drill through that neighborhood, they could know within inches exactly where they need to drill without hitting one of these sewer lines and causing potentially a big problem.”


Recognizing the added value of the technology, RIDGID integrated wireless and mapping functions into their SR-24 underground locator. It uses wireless Bluetooth communication to connect to external devices such as GPS units, compatible signal transmitters and smartphones. A free app, RIDGIDtrax, makes most smartphones and tablets compatible, visually displaying GPS line trace maps in real time.

“It was designed to easily replace inaccurate hand sketches and drawings, creating a digital representation of pointers underground,” says Eric Huber, senior product manager with RIDGID in the February 2016 issue of Cleaner magazine. “Not only does the system leverage tools that most professionals likely already have, it allows them to quickly share accurate information with customers.”

The mapping features can be utilized in several ways. The SR-24 connects wirelessly to most high-accuracy submeter GPS hand-held devices with Bluetooth. In this mode, the GPS hand-held device is the primary data capture point to obtain the most accurate position information, obtaining depth and signal information wirelessly from the SR-24. 

The unit has its own GPS antenna for applications that do not require detailed submeter position information. It has a nominal accuracy of less than 8 feet and gets more accurate with clear line of sight to GPS satellites overhead. This level of location resolution can be used to create reference maps of underground assets, but not exact dig points. It records GPS and locating information on its onboard microSD card at the press of a button. The universal KML file created can be viewed on GIS mapping programs such as Google Earth. 

“It enables the operator to go back to the exact spot they need to after mapping is complete,” Huber says. “This system is going to appeal to utility and municipal excavators, utility locators, plumbers and even facility maintenance crews.”

The RIDGIDtrax app enables operators to view positional information in real time to document underground assets. Just select a utility type and record “digital yellow paint” as you walk the line. The finished KML map is easy to share by email for quick viewing, providing an easy way to document the layout and depth of underground lines.


Another company providing inspection and surveying equipment, Pipelogix, now offers a GIS Module with its ArcMap system. The module allows supervisors to view all surveys performed on an asset. The toolbar filters survey data in the master database to highlight pipes with selected conditions, grades or score values, allowing the user to link to the video or survey. Survey conditions can be exported to a shape file or a geodatabase feature class. When opened in ArcMap, this layer displays the condition along the length of pipe. Selecting the condition will link to the video and jump to the correct footage for viewing. Seeing the problem and its location can make it easier to schedule repair and cleaning crews. It is compatible with ArcGIS 9.3 through 10.3.


A second digital application, VM-MAP from Vivax-Metrotech, allows for the real-time mapping of buried utilities. Mobile devices can pair with utility locators via Bluetooth with no trailing cables, allowing them to store depth of cover, GPS coordinates and the distance between locates. This data can then be downloaded or emailed to a PC for analysis. It is compatible with Google Maps, asset management and GIS software. Real-time generated maps ensure that the data is accurate. The location data is obtained from the mobile phone’s internal GPS, the utility locator’s integrated GPS or an external GPS device of choice. Additional site data such as notes and photographs can be manually inputted as the log is created. The application is compatible with iOS and Android devices and available at the Apple Store or Google Play. 


Finally, the data management platform from FlowWorks lets operators view data from sewer and water meters, rain gauges, groundwater sensors and pump stations alongside their GIS data to create a single view of all information without changing screens, changing terminals, or searching through old files. The platform accepts data from all manufacturers’ instruments. It also collects data directly from SCADA, USGS and NOAA environmental stations and GIS platforms.

More Info:

RapidView IBAK; 800/656-4225; www.rapidview.com

RIDGID; 800/769-7743; www.ridgid.com

Pipelogix; 866/299-3150; www.pipelogix.com

Vivax-Metrotech; 800/446-339; www.vivax-metrotech.com

FlowWorks; 206/859-6999; www.flowworks.com




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