Technology Report 2022

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Improving Underground Surveying and Locating Using a Robotic Vehicle


For many years, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) has been used by utility locators to detect underground pipes. With the increasing amount of buried plastic pipe going into congested subspaces, locating is becoming more challenging since plastic offers lower reflectivity compared to metal. ULC Technologies received co-funding from the U.S. DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to develop a robotic solution to improve the detection of plastic pipes. Because GPR technicians are not easy to find, electromagnetic locating is sometimes preferred over GPR even though GPR may provide better performance. Also, the lack of skilled technicians can cause significant delays in generating reports when using GPR.

The prototype Robotic Underground Survey System (RUSS) is a semi-autonomous system that assists crews in locating and surveying underground infrastructure to build accurate maps of buried pipelines and cables. The robot employs conventional GPR but uses an innovative approach to improve the sensitivity to both metallic and non-metallic pipes. It uses a non-conventional scanning method (known as multi-static data collection or the separation of transmitter and receiver antennas during scanning) and algorithms that improve the detection of low-reflectivity targets.

Testing showed the following advantages of the robotic system:

  • Increased resolution of scans
  • Improved detection capabilities for both metallic and non-metallic pipe
  • Semi-autonomous scanning that can improve reliability and consistency of scans
  • Locating accuracy that can meet most pipeline operator requirements
  • Locating buried infrastructure of all kinds can be challenging, and the proliferation of plastic pipe installations can make accurate locating even more of a challenge.

ULC is seeking additional partners to identify use cases for this solution, pilot the use of the technology in the field, and support commercialization.

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