Chicago Embarks on New Underground Mapping Project

Cnet – The city of Chicago was incorporated in 1837 and the underground network of pipes is so complex, and the records are so outdated and incomplete, that the city has created an Office of Underground Coordination. Their job is to try and figure out what infrastructure is buried underneath a construction site before digging begins.

The city has helped develop a computer program that creates a digital blueprint of Chicago’s underground pipeline network of sewer, water, electric, gas, broadband and other services from approximately 30 companies and public utilities.

This project is the result of a $320 million public-private partnership called UI Labs (University Industry). Based on Goose Island on the north end of Chicago, UI Labs began to develop a 3D Map of Chicago’s underground infrastructure last October. The goal is to provide a complete 3D understanding of the city’s underground facilities.

The mapping project starts after a construction crew digs into the ground and replaces a pipe, installs a new pipe or fixes a broken one. A crew member records a video of all visible pipes. From there, computers use a technique called “point clouds” to analyze each frame of the video and create digital drawings. A 3D model is then produced. UI Labs says the 3D models can then replace the city’s old paper maps. Also, these digital maps can easily be updated each time a new scan of a construction site takes place.

UI Labs believes these new digital maps of Chicago’s underground infrastructure will ultimately help cut the overall time of construction projects in the city by four to 14 months. The desired end result of this project is reducing costly accidents, street closures and construction delays.

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