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Thread: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

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    Senior Member Nb22x's Avatar
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    Question Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    Just a thought.
    I was watching a documentary on jobs and technology.
    Some industries are aided by technological innovation while others are destroyed.

    Is our industry immune from being automated, leaving us jobless?

    I think our job is too complex and requires skilled human input to ever be fully automated.

    Too many variables. [On a side note how many variables can you think of in this profession?]
    [signal strength, scope, machine, weather etc...] something to think about...

    If our job was ever fully automated, what would it look like?
    Robots taking coded instructions from the ticket and using lasers and advanced em/gpr to mark lines?! lol!
    Homeowner - "They still bury lines in the ground?
    I thought they didn't do that anymore!"
    Me - "Yes sir they do."
    ____________________
    Homeowner - "...But you're painting all over people's property"
    Me - "Yes I am. It's the law."
    ____________________
    Homeowner - "My gas line is not over there"
    Me - "Yes it is."

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    Senior Member Wingfoot's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?


    Greetings Nb22x! I believe the real question is what effect will the future of the telephone companies delivery of communication have on the number of utility locators needed to mark the location of utilities. The time required to mark the location of telephone landlines on each locate request consumes the majority of time throwing paint. Those of us who remember ten years ago when Southwestern Bell brought their locating responsibility in-house resulted SM&P releasing thousands of it's locators. AT&T and Verizon, as well large CATV providers I'm sure, want to abandon all of it's plant and be 100% wireless by 2020! The hemorrhaging for us locators, as well as management, would be catastrophic if these communication companies get their way within the next six years!

    Here is a segment from a Salon news article dated July 9, 2013 on this subject:

    "Verizon, the countryís second-largest landline phone company, is currently replacing phone lines with their wireless alternative Voice Linkģ. Competitors including AT&T have made it clear they want to follow. Itís the beginning of a technological turning point, representing the receding tide of copper-wire landlines that have been used since 1877.

    The number of U.S. phone lines peaked at 186 million in 2000. Since then, more than 100 million copper lines have been disconnected, according to trade group US Telecom. The lines have been supplanted by cellphones and Internet-based phone service offered by way of cable television and fiber optic wiring. Just 1 in 4 U.S. households will have a copper phone line at the end of this year! AT&T would like to turn off its network of copper land lines by the end of the decade.

    The elderly and people in rural areas, where cell coverage may be poor or nonexistent, will be most affected by disappearing phone lines.

    Sean Lev, the FCCís general counsel, said in a blog post that 'we should do everything we can to speed the way while protecting consumers, competition, and public safety.' But he also points out that most phone companies arenít set to retire their landline equipment immediately. The equipment has been bought and paid for, and thereís no real incentive to shut down a working network. He thinks phone companies will continue to use landlines for five to 10 years, suggesting that regulators have some time to figure out how to tackle the issue.

    AT&T would like to have all its landline phone equipment turned off by 2020. Verizonís Maguire envisions a gradual phase-out, starting right now."

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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    Senior Member ProfessionalLocator's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    Utiliquest has tried to semi-automate it with junk like the GPS / Bluetooth paint stick. Overall less a robot that can also drive, no the job cannot be automated.

    Wireless technology would have a significant impact as far as TV and phone are concerned. Gas, electric, water, sewer all still need have to have just as much physical plant in place so the industry would not disappear, just need a lot less locators.

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    Senior Member ProfessionalLocator's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    Regards going all wireless for TV and phone. Local regulating authorities would have to catch up and permit this.

    For a provider to work within a state they must be registered and permitted to do so. Many areas have land-line requirements by legislation and regulation. Around here public swimming pools cannot operate unless they have a working land-line phone (CATV VOIP allowed) to call 911 with.

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    Senior Member phoenix827's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    only way I can see this working is to have multiple trace wire with a specific freq signal on them at all times. all digging equip to have some sort of sensors in the teeth of the bucket. Just an idea.

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    Member justanotherlocator's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    Quote Originally Posted by phoenix827 View Post
    only way I can see this working is to have multiple trace wire with a specific freq signal on them at all times. all digging equip to have some sort of sensors in the teeth of the bucket. Just an idea.
    I think you are the most logical path. I think what the future will probably hold is utilities fine tuning their plant with GPS then providing those coordinates to excavators as needed.

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    Mke
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    I think justanotherlocator has nailed it. As of right now, all of our newly installed utilities are shot with survey grade GPS equipment (sub meter). With this information they have vertical and horizontal data on any given utility. If needed, the surveyors can take the combined coordinates for any given utility and plot a path of the utility. They may be off here and there with the natural ebb and flow of the utility, but it will be within the 2' tolerance of the One-Call system.

    The great part is that most construction companies will already have a survey company on contract or they will have a laborer use their gps equipment to plot out these coordinates.

    The only hangup with this is that the utility would have to give the coordinates to the excavators and they would be bound by that information. Right now utilities like the limited liability they have with the contracted locates. I don't think they will go back to being responsible for locate information. Too much liability.

    mke

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    Senior Member ProfessionalLocator's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mke View Post
    I think justanotherlocator has nailed it. As of right now, all of our newly installed utilities are shot with survey grade GPS equipment (sub meter). With this information they have vertical and horizontal data on any given utility. If needed, the surveyors can take the combined coordinates for any given utility and plot a path of the utility. They may be off here and there with the natural ebb and flow of the utility, but it will be within the 2' tolerance of the One-Call system.

    The great part is that most construction companies will already have a survey company on contract or they will have a laborer use their gps equipment to plot out these coordinates.

    The only hangup with this is that the utility would have to give the coordinates to the excavators and they would be bound by that information. Right now utilities like the limited liability they have with the contracted locates. I don't think they will go back to being responsible for locate information. Too much liability.

    mke


    There are a couple of reasons this is unworkable.

    One is it would require every excavator to have the high quality gps equipment, the know how to use it and materials to mark with. Aside from legislating expensive equipment, especially small one man firms, homeowners digging in their yards are also excavators. Just not going to happen.

    The gps system of satellites is not reliable enough. It is a military system, not civilian, and under military control. The military has wired in, and the authority to use, controls that will degrade the signals not giving the level of accuracy needed. This is so an enemy cannot use the gps system to guide weapons to a target. Like an aircraft loaded with explosives with it's autopilot wired into gps.

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    Senior Member yahoo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    ......automated ...yes possibly one day but someone will still have to locate gas ! ...ha
    wise men talk because they have something to say and fools because they have to say something....plato

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    Mke
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    you are half right. Most excavators use machine control for grading, paving, pipe placement, etc... To state that they wouldn't have the money to purchase them..... they kinda already do. You are right that the mom and pops don't, but there are enough companies that rent them, they would be fine.

    As for the satelite issues, you are right that typical satelites are built with a select availability which throws off the GPS coordinates on a random pattern where the accuracy will be crap up to 15 or 20 meters. The kicker with this is that the US is not the only agency that has satelites in orbit. The new Survey anteneas can reach more satelites then the typical 9-12 they needed. The new setups can use the GLONASS satelites which improve their ability to recieve signals. On any given shot they are reaching up to 26 satelites.

    Can the government flip the switch and end this? Yeah, they have the ability to do so. They can do alot of things that would "F" up society. It doesn't stop society from moving foward and improving their abilities in any given industry.

    machinecontrolrail.jpg

    You can see the Two GPS antenneas on the blade of the dozer.

    mke

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    Administrator TheCableVine's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    I thought the government ended the automatic error in the GPS signal years ago. The reason: too many private companies now depend on it daily. I don't think that will change.

    As for automation... We will go from hooking up directly to using GPS to find the utilities. This will only happen for major utility corridors like cross country pipelines and interstate phone lines etc. Private fiber companies will use it too. You will still need to hookup in that ped in the corner of somebodies flower garden to get the phone lines for the fence job. Or from the Meter to the road for the gas line. That will always be needed, but the bigger stuff will go to gps. But, somebody will have to operate that gps equipment and still put the paint down. The utilities aren't going to trust a contractor to mark their utilities. Half the time they don't even call in a ticket. Hell, they'll not mark it, tear it up, and then put paint down 5 feet away and say the coordinates are bad.

    Yes, automated for the big stuff. No, same as always for the little stuff.
    yahoo likes this.
    "Change does not always equal progress."

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    Senior Member ProfessionalLocator's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    The automatic 'error' in civilian gps did end years ago. But due to the possibility of this system being used for weapons guidance they retained the ability to degrade the signal should the need arrive.
    The effect on industry would not be an issue should one of the preplanned scenarios occur.

    Back in the 1980s a former US NATO general wrote a book outlining a WWIII nonnuclear war. In this scenario the Soviet Union made a massive move to take Europe with it's conventional forces. The pre-staged NATO forces were to fight a holding battle until reinforcements arrived from the US. To get the large number of troops there quickly required an air bridge. It was NATO's plan that all civilian airliners would be commandeered by the military, the flight crews would be drafted into immediate military service. The entire airline industries of all NATO countries would be in military control, civilian air travel would be suspended. Shutting off civilian gps is a minor effort.

    The purpose of the preplanned scenarios is to be able to react quickly and effectively, no time to waste figuring things out. When Japan declared war on the US 12/7/41 followed by Germany and Italy 12/11/13 the US began implementing a preplanned scenario for a two front war. One of the preplanned scenarios was to fight a war where England declared war on the US and their Canadian allies were invading across the boarder. (Yes, this could also be a South Park script)

    If the need to shut off civilian gps arises the reaction is set in place and all consideration of negative effect on civilian industry has been considered. Should the time come it would just happen.




    Quote Originally Posted by TheCableVine View Post
    I thought the government ended the automatic error in the GPS signal years ago. The reason: too many private companies now depend on it daily. I don't think that will change.

    As for automation... We will go from hooking up directly to using GPS to find the utilities. This will only happen for major utility corridors like cross country pipelines and interstate phone lines etc. Private fiber companies will use it too. You will still need to hookup in that ped in the corner of somebodies flower garden to get the phone lines for the fence job. Or from the Meter to the road for the gas line. That will always be needed, but the bigger stuff will go to gps. But, somebody will have to operate that gps equipment and still put the paint down. The utilities aren't going to trust a contractor to mark their utilities. Half the time they don't even call in a ticket. Hell, they'll not mark it, tear it up, and then put paint down 5 feet away and say the coordinates are bad.

    Yes, automated for the big stuff. No, same as always for the little stuff.

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    Member PokerAdam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    Could you imagine an excavator pulling up google earth (or something equivalent) able to see where all the utilities are buried. Click on a point and get 3D specifications. Sure without someway to plug this information into the machine, it will still be useless without paint on the ground so they can eyeball the dig.

    Although the idea of a mapping system like this would be fantastic for excavators (and locators), the reality is that the constant changing utility footprint would be a logistical nightmare to maintain.

    Another facet to consider is that most utilities restrict access to this type of information. Excavators are usually only made aware of the exact location of UG utilities by the marks made by locators. The Locators' marks are based on the information they glean from comparing what the "print" tells him is there, and what he actually finds in the field. The prints are generally considered to be "up to date", but can only be used as a guide.

    Regardless of how accurate the information on any 3d rendering of a utility footprint, I can't see how we could ever get around "the print is only a guide" mentality. Most people that see us locating think our job is easy, and anyone can do it. What they forget is that what we are doing is usuing old data to give us a clue as to what might be out there, then using equipment that is susceptible to all sorts of interference to mark something we probably will never see with our own eyes. This requires using alot of fuzzy logic, faith in our training and the balls to put down a mark.

    Our job ain't easy, and no amount of automation can replace the peace of mind a good solid line of paint and flag can give.
    Last edited by PokerAdam; November 13th, 2013 at 09:35 AM.
    phoenix827 likes this.

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    Senior Member ProfessionalLocator's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    Imagine also exact locations of critical communication, power lines and of flammable pipeline information available to any saboteur.


    Quote Originally Posted by PokerAdam View Post
    Could you imagine an excavator pulling up google earth (or something equivalent) able to see where all the utilities are buried. Click on a point and get 3D specifications. Sure without someway to plug this information into the machine, it will still be useless without paint on the ground so they can eyeball the dig.

    Although the idea of a mapping system like this would be fantastic for excavators (and locators), the reality is that the constant changing utility footprint would be a logistical nightmare to maintain.

    Another facet to consider is that most utilities restrict access to this type of information. Excavators are usually only made aware of the exact location of UG utilities by the marks made by locators. The Locators' marks are based on the information they glean from comparing what the "print" tells him is there, and what he actually finds in the field. The prints are generally considered to be "up to date", but can only be used as a guide.

    Regardless of how accurate the information on any 3d rendering of a utility footprint, I can't see how we could ever get around "the print is only a guide" mentality. Most people that see us locating think our job is easy, and anyone can do it. What they forget is that what we are doing is usuing old data to give us a clue as to what might be out there, then using equipment that is susceptible to all sorts of interference to mark something we probably will never see with our own eyes. This requires using alot of fuzzy logic, faith in our training and the balls to put down a mark.

    Our job ain't easy, and no amount of automation can replace the peace of mind a good solid line of paint and flag can give.
    PokerAdam likes this.

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    Member justanotherlocator's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could Locating Ever Be Automated?

    Maybe all the facilities could be equipped with sprinkler head like devices with flags and could be remotely activated to pop up when excavation is going to take place.
    The Big-E likes this.

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