Beneath the earth’s surface lies an astonishing hotch-potch of tunnels, pipes and cables. Trouble is, the people who put all that stuff down there have terrible trouble remembering what they put where. The job is even harder now that plastic pipes and cables are being laid – at least with metal ones, basic metal detection could help.The problem is so great that a quarter of the four million holes dug by utility firms in the UK each year are in the wrong place. Oxems, short for Oxford Electromagnetic Solutions, has created a neat solution to this mess. It has a purpose-built system of tags and detectors to allow the remote identification of anything buried underground. It embeds photos too, making identification of the location even easier. The Oxems system has been developed at Oxford University with the major water, electricity and broadband companies in mind, and has been trialled successfully in London and Leicester. Pre-Oxems, says CEO Kevin Gooding, “there has been no comprehensive way to locate, identify and strategically manage buried utility assets in a practical and cost effective manner.” Through use of complex technology such as ground-penetrating radar, Oxems “challenges the conventional way of thinking in the industry, an industry which is highly regulated and often has limited competition.” And if it prevents pointless digging up of roads it won’t just be utility companies saying a quiet prayer of thanks.
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