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Novel low-cost ground penetrating radar system for safe, simple and swift detection of all utilities piping and cabling located underground

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - e-Safe (Novel low-cost ground penetrating radar system for safe, simple and swift detection of all utilities piping and cabling located underground)

Reporting period: 2015-11-01 to 2016-04-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project
The specific problem/need to be addressed
Across Europe and the world, the installation of underground utility services continues to grow. Population growth in EU urbanised areas means increased overall demand for utilities, while 21st century communications networks and renewable smart energy grids require infrastructural upgrades in the form of new cutting edge fibre-optic and high voltage cables respectively. With Europe’s cities accounting for almost 68% of the continent’s overall population, the multitude of underground services in these areas is becoming increasingly congested. For example, the city of Rome’s 3million inhabitants are serviced by 65,000km of pipes and cables buried beneath its streets. With the ground beneath Europe’s cities streets already overcrowded, the delivery of vital utilities through the installation and maintenance of new and existing underground services is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous. The personnel working in the various utilities sectors (telecoms, water, gas, electricity etc) face daily challenges with regard to safe excavation installation and maintenance, with matters likely to be further compounded with integration of infrastructure for “Smart Cities”.

The issue of overcrowded underground utilities and unsafe excavation is compounded by the absence of accurate underground piping and cabling records. In many instances these records don’t comply with any common standard and will only provide basic location details, such as the side of the road in which a service is buried. Commonly, no reference to diameter, lay depth, or material of the pipe/cable will be provided. For more historical services, quite often the topographical features by which they were originally referenced have changed unrecognisably. Additionally, the conversion of old hardcopy paper drawings to digital format has led to degradation in original accuracy. Workers across all sectors must slowly hand-dig numerous “trial holes” before the real work can actually begin; a process that is laborious, slow, costly and outdated.

It is hardly surprising therefore that engineering contractors working with poorly referenced utilities location data in congested service areas are causing 90,000 incidences of third party damage to European gas pipelines annually. Europe is not alone in this regard; the Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) recorded over 230,000 incidents in Canada and the USA of underground utility damage caused during excavation activities undertaken in 2012. Almost 46,000 of these incidences were due to insufficient locating practices.

The impact of such damage is wide-ranging. In Europe it is estimated that there are approximately 120 deaths and 6,000 serious injuries attributed to contact with the electricity network every year (based on UK data). Repair costs for damaged services can run into many millions of euros. As an example roughly €200 million is spent on rectifying third party damage to buried services in the UK. Repair work is responsible for further traffic disruptions. Such disruption do little to reduce the €110billion annual cost of road congestion in Europe.

The business opportunity
It is clear that there is an urgent need for a cost effective, rapid, compact, high performance “all services avoidance” solution that: protects the safety of utilities service maintenance personnel; prevents utilities damage; speeds up location of excavation zones; and helps minimise disruption to the travelling public. Currently no existing technologies are capable of delivering all these outcomes. As pioneers and leaders of GPR technology, PipeHawk Plc has developed a totally unique and effective services avoidance technology, without the associated expense and user complexity of current GPR systems. “e-Safe” (Electronic Service Avoidance For Everyone) is able to detect the presence of all types of utility services, including those that are non-conductive and/or non-metallic (plastic, fibre optic etc). Our solution is developed to technology readiness level six (TRL6) and has been demonstrated in a relevant environment.
Overall innovation project objectives
To bring to market readiness a novel underground-services avoidance system with universal detection capability. Our primary end-users are those employed by the companies responsible for the installation and maintenance of all underground utilities services (electricity, gas, water, telecoms etc). For the very first time these end-users will be offered the capability to easily detect the presence of ALL services in a single device prior to breaking the surface. Our specific innovation project objectives are:
1. To dramatically improve site safety for the end-user and deliver productivity related savings of >€50K per team per year by allowing the user to establish more quickly where it is safe to excavate
2. To reduce the cost of damage repair work by >€100million 5 years post project for contractors and utilities providers
3. To reduce utilities disruptions to general public across all the utilities sectors (electricity, gas, water, telecoms) and to reduce the impact of traffic congestion
4. To refine design of the product for market sale and use as well as design for manufacture
5. To develop a pilot line for scaling-up manufacturing to produce the e-safe for €1,750 (cost of Manuf.)
6. To capture up to 5% of the global market (8,000 units), generate annual revenues of €30.4 million (€16.4 million profit), and create 70 new jobs by year 5 post project
The project started in November December 2015 and completed successfully in May April 2016. In line with the Description of the Action (DOA), we completed the following feasibility tasks:

1. Risk Assessment: We have undertaken a comprehensive risk assessment in order to assess, quantify and mitigate any project technical, financial, political and commercial risks that could affect successful exploitation.
2. Market Study: We have validated the size of the market, including scale of the European problem. Next, we have confirmed market entry strategy and e-Safe customer cost, including return on investment for customer based on €3,800 retail price. This study involved potential customers all across Europe, since much of our current market and user customer data is based on UK and Ireland information.
3. User Involvement: To complement our existing knowledge of UK and Irish market, we carried out extended user engagement to further validate the user needs. We achieved this by engaging with a wider European user base in order to ensure “right first time”.
4. IP Management: We have undertaken a due diligence on our IPR strategy and received advice on its appropriateness for successful exploitation of the e-Safe system in all markets.
5. Innovation strategy development: We have developed our innovation strategy, part of which includes future work plans, potential collaborative partners, roadmap of future enhancements and novel developments etc.
6. Business Plan Elaboration: We have produced an elaborated business plan based on results of the feasibility study, with future financing options included.
A summary of the key findings on the project are:
- The exploitation of the e-safe is unlikely to be realised without funding from the H2020 Phase 2 programme
- The market potential not only exists but has potentially increased since PipeHawk commenced the Phase one project
- Many key contacts have been established in Central and Eastern European companies and trade associations
- PipeHawk attended several industry events and exhibitions, with exposure to thousands of potential clients, and established interest in the e-safe product is widespread
- The e-safe is undoubtedly an innovative and disruptive technology based not only upon customer feedback but also the industry awards received at the events and exhibitions
- Local demonstrations have proven the e-safe technically and established the ease of use that justifies the classification of the product as a tool
- The e-safe may need some level of physical re-design to meet client needs (size, weight, deployment, storage) and to control tooling & manufacturing costs
- Some elements of the client base may require more customisation options and PipeHawk needs to review how the modular design philosophy supports this
- The Radio Equipment Directive (RED) has come into force and the impact on the e-safe product needs to be considered and evaluated during the Phase 2 project
- The feedback from users has identified that development of the e-safe antenna solution is key to the success of the product
- PipeHawk’s in-house RADAR capabilities are inadequate and the company must recruit or partner to get access to the required expertise in order to develop the product antenna
- Some elements of the client base would value remote access to the product and PipeHawk needs to consider how this capability can be incorporated
- PipeHawk requires manufacturing expertise, probably in the form of consultancy, to help evaluate and establish in-house and/or sub-contract production to meet the estimated levels of demand
- “Brexit” has occurred during the Phase 1 report preparation period. Whilst this probably has little short term impact the long term ramifications are an unknown factor
- PipeHawk requires marketing expertise, probably in the form of consultancy, to help build a permanent in-house marketing communications team
- The company needs to create the role of product manager in order to ensure that the e-safe product and the potential family of products in the technical roadmap are developed and exploited
In particular our contact with potential clients at events, exhibitions and demonstrations has highlighted feedback in areas of the physical package of the e-safe and some of the features including wireless communications. The product is accepted as a reliable tool that achieves the aims that we have set for it but there is clearly scope for improvements and features that will make the product more attractive to clients and expand the potential applications, and therefore markets, that e-safe can address.
As regards beyond state-of-the-art, we have identified that the requirements for antenna technology go beyond our initial assessment of improving upon the existing antenna designs and making the manufacture of them more scalable. There are market requirements for GPR devices to use higher frequency and dual or tri frequency antennas and PipeHawk will need to address this in order to take a market leading position. There are also potential requirements that we have identified to use alternatives to Lith-ion batteries; and the potential to address applications that will require novel deployment methods eg vertical or overhead surfaces.
Following our work on this phase and the response that e-safe has received we are convinced that we are offering a tool that achieves the benefits we set up to achieve at the start of the project:
- Improving the safety of service personnel – helping to decrease incidents that could lead to risk of death or injury
- Minimising utilities damage, the inconvenience of downtime and the costs of repair
- Speeds up location of excavation zones making work quicker and more efficient
- Minimising disruption to travel networks affecting both the public and business
- The environmental benefits of reduced excavations, reduced accidents and more efficient working