Underground asset map ‘revolutionizing’ infrastructure delivery

The Greater London Authority (GLA) pilot is one of two national Underground Asset Registers being funded by the Geospatial Commission.

L-R: Sakthy Selvakumaran, David McGovern, Lord Robert Mair, Brittany Harris, Christiana Amacker
L-R: Sakthy Selvakumaran, David McGovern, Lord Robert Mair, Brittany Harris, Christiana Amacker

A digital map of London’s underground assets is helping engineers working on utility projects, by improving data quality and encouraging better coordination between infrastructure providers and local authorities.

London’s Underground Asset Register (LUAR), which is GLA-led, maps underground assets such as pipes, tunnels and phone cables to help prevent accidents during excavation and reduce disruption on the roads. Data collected from the pilot will be used to inform the Geospatial Commission’s future activities.

Speaking at ICE London’s first lecture of 2020, Christiana Amacker, Project Manager for LUAR at the GLA, said that the register was ‘revolutionizing the way that asset owners exchange feedback with one another.’

The fully-booked event, held at ICE’s Westminster headquarters on Monday 20 January, welcomed an audience of 240 guests and saw four speakers from across the sector present their ideas on the future of infrastructure, and how civil engineers can utilise technological opportunities.

The presentations were followed by a Q&A session, led by Professor Lord Robert Mair, former ICE President (2017-18) who chaired the event.

Data-informed infrastructure

Looking at the future of cities more generally, David McGovern from Bentley Systems underlined the power of data in making educated decisions that simplify the lives of citizens. Referring to digital twin technology, David said that new opportunities mean that in future, civil engineers will be able to detect the impact of certain decisions before they are made with more accuracy, such as building a station or road in a particular location.

Brittany Harris, CEO and Co-Founder of Qualis Flow, considered the link with sustainability, arguing that civil engineers must ask themselves how they can use technology for good.

Qualis Flow’s platform, which focuses on environmental risk, has been effective in identifying where improvements need to be made to move towards a more sustainable future – with the solution having tracked almost 9,000 material deliveries and 30,300 tonnes of waste throughout the UK.

Pointing to her research on satellite radar imagery, Sakthy Selvakumaran, CEO and Co-Founder of BKwai, noted that new types of data have the potential to improve ageing, existing infrastructure. Sakthy presented Waterloo Bridge as a case study, highlighting a project involving the installation of sensors at key points of interest on the bridge to collect data about the structure, tracking any small shifts to help identify precursors to failure.

New civil engineering insights

The Q&A session saw a range of topics raised, including the need for data security, the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and whether technology will eventually overtake the need for human detection.

Responses from the panel suggested that whilst data would undoubtedly play a growing role in infrastructure, it would not overtake the need for human activity, with Sakthy arguing that AI should be used as a tool to help detect unusual activity rather than a sole fix to a problem.

Brittany also highlighted recent work published on the the ethics of AI, and the theme of responsibility; for instance, who is responsible when a structure fails as a result of the technology that failed to detect the problem.

Overall, there was consensus from the panel that technology offers huge opportunities for the industry, and if used effectively, it can offer new civil engineering insights that will benefit London’s existing and future infrastructure.

ICE London will host its next event as part of the Knowledge programme, which focuses on the future of the built environment, on Tuesday 21 April 2020. Further information on this event will be available soon.

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