Hybrid QT system for visualisation of buried utility assets (Qvision)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Civil Engineering


Qvision is a feasibility study to investigate the market potential of incorporating Quantum Technology gravitational sensors with OXEMS' integrated solution, thus enabling utility customers to access and visualise a significantly larger proportions of their network rapidly whilst retaining many of the unique advantages of the OXEMS solution. Promising results from previous studies indicate technical superiority exhibited by QT gravity sensor over classical gravitational sensors. It is expected that QT gravitational sensors would overcome the inherent issue of speed of rollout of the current OXEMS system (which relies upon physical tag deployment).

OXEMS has developed a unique integrated solution offering virtualization of buried assets provided they have been located and tagged with the company's unique tags. However, utilities currently only expose ~1% of their networks annually, limiting companies like OXEMS to tag assets and extend the cloud-based digitization of underground assets. Thus, it will take over 100 years to tag an entire network. Although OXEMS' product focuses on attaching tags to buried pipelines, its product range includes the visualisation of the network for their utility customers together with some asset properties.

Therefore, the proposed study is a collaborative venture between OXEMS, and the UoB to investigate the feasibility of adding information from QT gravitational sensors to OXEMS' integrated solution, thus enabling utility customers to access and visualize a significantly larger proportion of their network, including in particular parts not tagged so far, to deploy a single solution across their networks. If successful this integration will add value to QT gravity data, increase the uptake by the utility industry and accelerate the roll-out of OXEMS' integrated system. To achieve this, we will:1) Investigate the use and quality of data sourced from QT gravity sensors in the underground asset management market (is it accurate and precise enough for visualisation?); 2) Compare this data with existing data on tagged assets to understand the extent it can be used in the market and to identify any gaps (can it be used to help overall market objectives?); 3) Create a software based demonstration to illustrate to clients the benefits gravitation sensors would deliver (likely to be an enhanced version of the current OXEMS app and database); 4) Investigate with clients the viability of deploying QT gravity sensors in street works in the future and develop a commercial model for such deployment; 5) Comparison of gravity sensor data output with traditional Ground Penetrating Radar; 6) Investigate how gravity sensors and data produced would be integrated with existing asset management data; 7) Create a full market forecast of deploying QT gravity sensors integrated with OXEMS tags including the impact of global deployment on the UK economy.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries from this research are diverse and include:
1. OXEMS' clients (e.g. utility provider and owners of buried pipes and ducts)
2. civil engineers who can use the underground space more sustainably in their infrastructure designs and use minimal dig techniques as the location of the buried assets are known more precisely
3. computer scientists who can utilise the augmented reality app for many other applications
4. UK-based and international academics
5. the general public who will benefit from a reduction in streetworks due to the use of trenchless technologies & fewer 'dry' holes, which are dug in the wrong place without locating the buried utility
6. the environment as more infrastructure such as parking and shops can be moved underground freeing up surface space for an increase in green infrastructure

The inability of utility companies to rapidly locate buried assets has a negative impact on the global economy in the order of several billion US dollars annually. This is caused by both a lack of data on the assets actually buried and an inability to physically locate them. The OXEMS integrated system addresses both these issues by using physical tags buried with the assets when they are exposed and automatically linking them with data in any format to ensure maximum information about the assets and enabling absolute physical location. Its deployment is however limited to the rate at which assets are exposed, currently approximately 1% per annum. This is impacting takeup of the OXEMS system and highlights a need to find an underground asset management solution for clients which can be rapidly rolled out. Current solutions are varied, often complex, and do not address the complete challenge of underground utility asset management. They tend to be engineering led solutions which typically focus on specific characteristics rather than taking a wider strategic approach. Qvision aims to demonstrate the potential for integrating QT gravity sensors into a broader (total) solution. The principle objective of the project is therefore to investigate the feasibility of this and to quantify the potential market for QT gravity sensors in the worldwide utility industry deployed in this manner.

If successful, Qvision will take an integrated system to market via OXEMS' existing channels (direct and via commercial partners). The total market (including software and services) is expected to be several billions of dollars. In addition, the end-users are being engaged early on in the QT sensor development process opening a channel of communication between the physics researchers and the end-users. Furthermore, the practitioners' clients will be able to see the potential of the new QT sensors based on the developed forward models thereby ensuring a demand for these sensors once they become market ready and also providing confidence in their capabilities. The focus of the QT roadmap for civil engineering has, to date, been on geophysical surveying for a range or different targets including buried utilities. Qvision will provide an alternative route to market for the QT gravity sensors. The engineering driven research takes into account user needs, promoting industrial adoption and generating social and economic impact, e.g. by reducing urban traffic congestion with better underground intelligence. The essential step is to build sufficient commercial confidence in a "spooky" & potentially disruptive quantum technology to unlock further industrial investment.

The academics will benefit by being involved in such a prestigious, multi-disciplinary project which has the potential to make a tangible difference in the future. It further addresses an issue that the public is familiar with in respect to streetworks & associated traffic delays. This will help to further raise their profiles in the academic community & through the industrial collaboration, connections will be developed which will be beneficial for future projects.


10 25 50
Description It turned out that it is possible to develop visual tags using a range of different sensing technologies to help asset owners locate their buried infrastructure better in the future.
Exploitation Route As this was part of an InnovateUK funded project, the findings are commercially sensitive and as such will not be used by others than OXEMS.
Sectors Construction

Description The industrial lead, OXEMS, have modified their business model and are now looking at different application areas for their tags through QVision2. This may lead to additional revenue in the future. Through QVision2 the reach of the project has increased beyond mainly water utilities.
Sector Construction
Impact Types Economic

Description Qvision2
Amount £190,700 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R043574/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 02/2019
Description Innovate UK OXEMS 
Organisation Oxford Electromagnetic Solutions Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have provided information to OXEMS on the development of the Quantum Technology gravimeter and gravity gradiometer, the data these will produce and how they will be deployed in the field.
Collaborator Contribution OXEMS is ultimately an end-user of QT gravity sensors, so this was a project which explored further applications which will ultimately contribute to the roadmap for quantum technology sensors.
Impact The collaboration is multi-disciplinary and comprises industry and academia. Any outcomes are currently confidential.
Start Year 2017
Description CIRIA Site Investigation Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A talk was given on 18th June 2019 to a group of geoscience professional and civil engineering construction industry as well as asset owners on innovative non-intrusive site investigation techniques. The potential of quantum technology gravity sensors was demonstrated alongside showing the limitations of existing methods.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Industry Workshop for Gravity Sensors 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A workshop was held with industry to assess their challenges related to inaccurate or incomplete knowledge of the location of buried assets and to assess if quantum technology gravity sensors could make a difference to industry in the future, but also to discuss what can be done now with existing geophysical sensing technologies and asset tags.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018