Since the introduction of early video-based technologies, utility businesses have sought ways to apply these technologies to the management of their assets. As the use of imagery and LiDAR in asset management evolves, there are some key considerations that must be taken into account when developing solutions that deliver real business outcomes to utilities.

There is evidence from the early 1980s of video imagery being applied in resource and infrastructure management. The development of affordable super VHS video technology in 1988 marks the start of video imagery for asset mapping, inspection and management. The SVHS video technology offered external time-code interfaces to support interfacing of GPS to efficiently generate geo-referenced imagery.

In the early 1990s, the home video and PC market facilitated the emergence of affordable video digitising and playback technology and, with the supporting digital video formats (MPEG, MJPEG and AVI), video data could be readily digitised and referenced to position data via video time-code information. By the mid-90s, the integration of digital video into various information systems, including geographic information systems (GIS), was evident to support simple asset mapping and visualisation. Affordable digital frame cameras emerged with higher resolution imagery by the end of the decade, allowing direct recording to disk.

In the 2000s the emergence of affordable mobile Light Detecting and Radar (LiDAR) technology offered the ability to create 3D point clouds of the asset corridor. The precision of the 3D points allowed engineering design measurement, supporting a greater range of asset mapping and management activities.

Today, mapping systems with imagery and LiDAR technology are commonplace with a wide range of terrestrial, mobile and aerial technologies available on the market for the collection, processing and delivery of imagery and LiDAR data. For utility owners, the challenge now is how to harness these technologies to deliver meaningful outcomes for the management of their assets.

A complete solution

It is important to note that whilst the technology is readily available, has become more affordable, and offers a great foundation to realise real outcomes, it is not simply about providing imaging and LiDAR data but rather, more importantly, how this data is combined with products and services to meet a utility network’s information requirements.

The range of available data acquisition technologies has exploded in recent years. LiDAR systems now deliver denser point clouds than ever before. We are faced with increasingly sophisticated technologies that deliver more and more data to us, but fundamentally we need to understand what to do with this data to make it truly useful.

For any data capture project it is critical to establish and understand the end user’s requirements, and these can vary considerably across the enterprise. For instance in the electricity distribution sector, some users within the organisation wish to be able to easily view recorded imagery of transmission and distribution lines, some need detailed information on pole-top furniture, and others are interested in addressing critical operational risks such as how to quickly identify conductors that could potentially cause fires through contact with each other or with other nearby objects. These varied requirements all inform decisions about what technologies should be used for mapping, and importantly, what needs to happen to field data to produce actionable outcomes that are of value to the utility user.

Now more than ever, asset management is of growing importance for utilities, with companies seeking to reduce costs and extend the operating life of their installed infrastructure. Experience says that the use of 3D panoramic imagery and LiDAR in an integrated solution designed to meet user requirements will play a key role in future asset management efforts.

While the solution will involve exciting technology, the real value comes from the domain knowledge and the processes around the technology to deliver the right outcomes in line with regulatory compliance and national standards.

Beyond 2014

With readily available high resolution imaging and LiDAR technology, a key challenge for the integrated solution is the shift from collection and processing to delivery, given the big data nature of the field data recorded.

Delivery encompasses the capability to store, manage and quickly analyse the data. The delivery challenge will most likely be solved using the cloud and cloud services, moving the greater challenge to focus on the delivery of high-value, integrated solutions that address a utility’s business or operational needs.

Moreover, the capability to store, manage and quickly analyse data collected over a number of years will give rise to the development of intelligent integrated solutions to fully support a condition-based maintenance approach which drives maintenance as needed, and thereby optimises the use of field resources.

An exciting future will see increased use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to cost effectively collect imagery and LiDAR data. Currently, regulatory restrictions associated with line-of-sight operation are the key impediment to wider deployment of UAS in asset management; although we are already seeing the technology being routinely used for video inspection of infrastructure in the power industry.

Finally, the pace of technology development will continue to present challenges to solution providers and asset owners as the desire to adopt new technologies in modern asset management practices grows.

About Geomatic Technologies

Founded in 1994 with a strong background in surveying sciences, Geomatic Technologies (GT) has a long and successful track record in the application of advanced technologies to meet the needs of diverse mapping and asset management programs throughout the utility sector in Australia. An SP AusNet owned company, GT has joined forces with specialist utility services division, Select Solutions, to deliver superior asset management outcomes to the utility sector.

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