Unearthing the opportunities beneath our cities

Do you ever think about what is underneath a connected place or city? With new and emerging technologies, we now have new ways to unlock opportunities through subsurface data.

The Connected Places Catapult joined forces with the British Geological Survey and the Ordnance Survey to lay the foundations of this new framework, defining the challenges and the opportunities at hand.

The task at hand is to combine the masses of subsurface data that already exists, enabling more innovative, cohesive progress to be made at ground level. This requires an aligning framework to gain valuable subsurface visibility that can be accessed and contributed to, one that integrates data in an organic way.

To offer a glimpse of the revolutionary innovations that can come from this subsurface visibility, a primary example is the ability to accurately map the location of pipelines before digging. This specific capability could be enabled through a co-ordinated view of underground infrastructure data, and augmented reality technology.

A national-scale challenge

There is a significant gap between the critical importance of the land beneath our cities, and the visibility we have of it. We rely on subterranean areas to facilitate transport, our critical utility infrastructure, and as a source of resources for urban growth plans. Our understanding of what lies beneath the surface is often recorded and thought of in siloed isolation, and planning tends to prioritise the visible elements of cities and towns.

This disconnect amounts to a national-scale challenge that is a limiting factor to place planning across the globe. Without collaboration between industries and governing bodies, the lack of shared subterranean visibility will continue to cause extremely costly inefficiencies.

For example, building plans are often delayed and require alterations at great expense if underground critical underground infrastructure is not foreseen during the planning phase. Not only are issues like this costly in terms of time and money, but they also lead to developments that are not optimised or future proofed. This challenge works both ways, with underground infrastructure maintenance often railing to factor in surface impacts like prolonged road congestion.

The subsurface opportunity

With a national subsurface data exchange framework in place, numerous users could provide data inputs and updates to create greater transparency. This system would help enable innovations like the augmented reality example included above, as well as many others. Another game changing example is sustainable drainage schemes, modelled to help manage surface water and the pipe network pressure it can create.

Such a framework could also be valuable for making more rapid and precise cost estimates for the remediation of land for housing, and an acceleration of conveyancing for homebuyers. These use cases would have a major positive impact on remedying the housing crisis and expediting the progress of connected places. The Iceberg Project is dedicated to exploring, testing, and promoting innovations like these.

A valuable environment

It is of critical importance that we continue to work towards a cohesive understanding of the interaction between the surface and subsurface, in terms of both natural and built environments. Gaining this insight will be imperative to the progress of our cities and connected places, and Nicola Yates, the CEO of Connected Places Catapult states that “the potential savings and impact demand it.”