Elenia

Elenia: Locating underground cables with the help of augmented reality (AR)

As Finland is a vast, sparsely populated country, a large part of the population lives outside major cities. These rural areas are prone to electric overhead line faults caused by storms. Electricity is often the only source for heating and thus electricity breaks can have drastic effects on the well-being of people.

The state has ruled the maximum electricity outage duration to be 6 hours in cities and 36 hours outside of cities. Cabling of overhead lines ensures higher security of supply and fewer power outages due to storms and heavy snowfall and electricity distribution company Elenia believes that underground cabling is the most economically feasible way to build new or renovate old networks.

Prototype for electric cable visualisation

Locating underground cables with the help of AR

The prototype has been valuable to Elenia as a way to demonstrate and share understanding internally of the potential of these technical solutions.

Prototype for electric cable visualisation

To answer this challenge, we at Exove Design together with Elenia began to research how augmented reality (AR) and GPS-based electric cable visualisation could be utilized to locate underground cables. To be able to cut down extra costs caused by valuable external GNSS-receivers and online services, the starting point was to use consumer-level mobile devices as the platform. 

We created a prototype to test the positioning accuracy of these devices for displaying network data in an AR context. The functionalities and usability of the prototype were ensured by interviewing field work professionals in repair, planning and control. 

The prototype was developed with Unity and ARKit-technology, which utilizes computer vision to track device orientation and location. In addition to GPS, physical landmarks and visible electric components can be used to calibrate the location.

Shared understanding of future business potential

Aside from the data gathered in the project, the prototype we produced has also been valuable to Elenia as a way to demonstrate and share understanding internally of the potential of these technical solutions.

Our findings were that, for the time being, consumer-level mobile devices cannot support the level of precision required to locate the cables at an appropriate resolution. For this, we still need expensive GNSS receivers and online differential positioning services – especially in the kinds of out-of-the-way locations where this solution would provide the most value. 

However, in the near future mobile devices with the emerging next generation GPS-technology will transform the field. With these devices, it will be possible to locate the device – and hence the cables – at <1m resolution. When fully functional, the application would save resources in terms of planning and maintenance costs. In addition, when used by third parties who are unaware of the cable location, it would provide help in preventing future cable breakdowns.

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