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Mixed Reality Making its Mark in Underground Network Management

Hong Kong is a major urban hub with underground utility services that are spread across a network of about 100 thousand kilometres. The city also has a considerable number of public utilities according to estimates in the last few years. As a result, excavations across the city have contributed to high levels of traffic congestion. To address some of the issues related to the maintenance of public utilities in the high-density underground network areas, mixed reality (MR) is being utilised.

This is not the first instance of mixed reality being used for the management of underground utility networks. Several years back, a New Jersey town had an experiment with this technology. The town, known as Tom’s River had about 700 kilometres of utilities underground lines, and MR technology was used to help make management easier. The observations of this project were enhanced efficiency, reduced costs, and higher levels of safety.

At Tom’s River, the authority relied on both augmented reality (AR) technology and geographic information systems (GIS). They used a holographic headset equipped with cameras, audio functionality, sensors, and a location system for finding the pipes.  Putting on the HoloLens gives workers a combined view where the virtual elements are superimposed on real-world elements. This allows them to also see the network of underground pipes to work on.

The virtual representation of the pipes also has appropriate colouring and is made to scales. This also lets the technicians understand how the utility pipes are laid on, with respect to each other. They can rely on features such as audio commands and gestures to get access to useful information. The headset also facilitates easy hands-free usability that enables personnel on the ground to establish useful connections with engineers. As a result, getting real-time feedback from engineers in their offices is easy. In cases where an engineer comes across high utility pipe groups, they can easily direct a worker to halt and change the method of operation if needed. Something like this would only be possible through telephonic conversation on the past and the process would generally be quite lengthy and thus raise costs.

The utilisation of headsets and smart glasses capable of projecting useful information is gaining a great deal of popularity. Nowadays, factories are using such technologies for parts maintenance, to perform inspections, and also for showing visual representations of property models to customers. There have been documented increases in inspection productivity by a significant percent.

Using immersive technologies for various applications is suitable as they rely on precise geospatial information. In the case of the Hong Kong project, the information about the infrastructure of underground networks is ready to be used, despite there being little scope for enhancing the data. This is mostly to do with discrepancies related to sewage records that are old and outdated. Once the spatial information is updated, the city will be able to benefit from the mixed reality offering. It can lead to more efficient management.

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