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InfraMarker Adds GPS, Cloud Services to Manage Buried Assets

The company says the new edition of its RFID-enabled solution will bring underground assets into the Internet of Things.
By Samuel Shaw
Jul 30, 2014

Earlier this month, InfraMarker—a division of Berntsen International, a manufacturer and supplier of survey and utility markers and related equipment—released a new iteration of a solution that employs radio frequency identification to determine the exact locations of pipes and other tagged infrastructure buried beneath the ground. Previous versions depended solely on magnetic locators and RFID tags and readers, while the newest edition introduces the inclusion of GPS technology and real-time communication with the cloud. The new InfraMarker system will bring underground assets into the Internet of Things, says Bill Rushing, Berntsen International's VP of R&D.

Construction accidents involving underground assets can cause deaths, financial losses and environmental damage. A water main struck by a backhoe can flood a city block, and even just nicking a natural gas line can cause a fatal explosion. With legacy location technology, pinpointing the whereabouts of an underground asset is a cumbersome and unreliable process that often requires calling an outside contractor with specialized equipment, which drives up a project's cost. Even with many states offering free utility location hotlines, diggers sometimes do without.

The InfraMarker tag, shown here attached to a PVC pipe, incorporates an Omni-ID passive UHF RFID tag and a permanent magnet, so that it can be located via a magnetic-field detector.

Making It Easy for Diggers
The InfraMarker system—currently in use by college campuses, communities, utilities and private resorts in five states—aims to make it easier for municipalities, contractors and utilities to do this work themselves, safely and cost-effectively. Rushing cites a study from Auburn University's Geospatial Research & Applications Center (GRAC), which found that using GPS in conjunction with InfraMarker RFID tags and magnetic locators reduced location times for underground assets by 80 percent compared with using GPS alone.

The new InfraMarker system utilizes GPS, magnetic location and RFID technologies to locate and record information related to underground assets. GPS guides technicians to the approximate site, which they then confirm via video and pictures embedded in the asset's record—all stored on the cloud, using a server hosted by Microsoft Azure cloud services. They then use a magnetic locator to pinpoint the asset's precise location, as well as an RFID reader to verify its identity. All activity is uploaded to the cloud in real time.

The Equipment
The keystone of the InfraMarker system is the Juno T41 XRG handheld computer, from Trimble, which includes an RFID reader and antenna, a GPS unit, ThingMagic firmware and InfraMarker software. The system can operate in tandem with an Android-based smartphone—an innovation that reduces the weight and bulk of equipment required in the field. With the InfraMarker app available from the Google Play store, operators can use a smartphone to control the external RFID reader via a Bluetooth connection, enabling them to read and write InfraMarker tags in the field. The app enables cloud connectivity and integrates the phone's camera to document an asset's surroundings.

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