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Automating field data collection with smart phones and tablets

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In 2007, GTI initiated the GPS Consortium based on the need for a user’s group to facilitate the sharing of information related to the use of GPS technology for utility and pipeline operations. The Consortium is a cost-effective way for users to better understand this rapidly changing technology and how GPS can best be applied to daily operations to create operational efficiencies, enhance regulatory compliance, and improve the quality of field collected data.

The Consortium develops new technologies and best practices, conducts workshops, pilot projects, and demonstrations and promotes general information sharing among GPS users.

In 2015, GTI will conduct a GPS Performance Evaluation Program to independently validate the performance of existing and emerging technologies such as low-cost mobile Real Time Kinematic (RTK). One of the goals of the evaluation program is to identify technologies that have the potential to significantly reduce the cost and complexity of capturing real-time high-accuracy GPS data for utility and pipeline operators.

GTI has been working with industry partners to automate field data collection and integrate with GIS systems for use in surveys, inspections, repairs, and new installations. Electronic and geospatial data optimize the entire data management process for utility operations, replacing paper forms and records.

Researchers have developed and demonstrated several applications to automate the collection of regulatory compliance data for operations such as HCA field surveys, CP readings, and exposed pipe surveys. Other applications reduce excavation damage through high-accuracy asset mapping and excavation monitoring.

With funding support from OTD, GTI has been involved in the development of new software. VeroTrack™ Automated Survey Tracking (AST), a software application that uses GPS to automatically associate leak survey routes with pipe segments for accurate reporting, was developed by GTI and is commercially available by Ubisense. In May 2012, Intermountain Gas Company, the first company to fully implement VeroTrack, reported a 20% efficiency gain in the field operations portion of the leak surveying process, and the overall return on investment is estimated at 33% over a 7-year period.

GTI was involved in the design and development of 3-GIS Mobile 2.1 to include specific gas industry functionality. The Android-compatible software collects data directly within a GIS environment, eliminating the need for back-office processing or data conversion, and real-time, sub-foot accurate GPS is integrated. An application to convert ASTM F2897-11a barcodes into GIS features directly in the field is included.

Successful demonstrations at several utilities showcased the application. A pilot project with Avista Utilities estimated that payback period of the total investment will be less than one year and the net present value over a three-year period will be more than $200,000 for the utility if the technology is fully implemented.​​​