website statistics
skip to primary navigationskip to content

Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

Studying at Cambridge

The Visual Detectors

last modified Mar 20, 2014 02:26 PM
Visual Detectors: 3D cameras and scanners have the potential to revolutionise the way forward for our infrastructure industry
The Visual Detectors

4D model produced from images showing the evolution of a construction site

As part of CSIC's aim to bridge the gap between research and industry, an Industry Partners meeting took place in Cambridge, highlighting the work from CSIC’s Computer Vision research group.

At the meeting, industry partners heard how computer vision technology (CVT) will best assist them to enable step changes in construction practice and how CVT can be used to help establish a world-leading sensing and monitoring industry that will ultimately extend asset life and reduce management costs.

“This has opened our eyes to the art of the possible.” James Thorpe - Laing O-Rourke

Professor Kenichi Soga, co-investigator at CSIC and Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Cambridge, opened the meeting by acknowledging that many of today’s gadgets are well advertised but that the crucial question asked by CSIC’s participating industry partners is: how can I use them most effectively and how can they help our business?

He said: “We talk maybe too much about ‘state of the art’ technologies, but for best industrial practice we want to discuss how we use state of the art in civil engineering practice, and that is what today is about.”

Professor Soga went on to say that the CSIC research group believes it imperative that computer vision gadgets are robust enough to use, and that a best practice guide in using them is developed.

He explained that CSIC are doing field demonstrations in order to build up confidence in this technology, to ensure its robustness, and to find out how the work of CSIC can best assist and get support from its industry partners.

A primary purpose of the meeting was to demonstrate the latest 3D photographic modelling devices to CSICs industry partners, and to find out what they would like to see developed in the future.

One of the key demonstrations was from Professor Roberto Cipolla, co-investigator at CSIC and Professor of Information Engineering at the University of Cambridge. He explained how the latest CVT running on off-the-shelf tablet computers and smart phones can be used to capture, localise and detect changes in images inside tunnels. This has the potential to be an effective tool in the structural health inspection of large-scale infrastructure.

Citing this as an example, Professor Cipolla explained that underground transport systems are a critical part of our cities, with a minimum of 500km of ageing tube tunnels in London alone. The current task of inspecting these tunnels – which is predominantly manual – is infrequent, expensive and labour intensive. By leveraging advances in CVT and handheld computing, such inspections can become a relatively simple and straightforward task, cutting out time and cost as well as providing further advantages, such as being able to observe change in real time, localise where the change is occurring, and visualise via augmented reality what lies behind the crack – the significance of which will help determine what action needs taking.

“The beauty of this technology is that you can take the image, retrieve the image, localise where it is, find past images from the database, and compare the images to see what has changed”, explained Professor Cipolla.

“More importantly, you can discover what lies behind the crack – whether it’s cabling, a pipe, concrete, or the River Thames, and this will determine what course of action you will need to take and how quickly.”

“This is exactly the sort of tool we have use for”, said London Underground’s Keith Bowers. “Tracking change is an important part of our work. It’s difficult for us because, firstly, most of our assets don’t change that much so the job can be quite boring, and secondly, if there is change there is debate as to whether it really has or whether it was missed before. This tool will give us a clear and definitive message.  We, at London Underground, need to keep moving forward and this is potentially a very interesting tool that we can use.”

Dr Ankur Handa, Research Associate at CSIC, went on to talk about 3D reconstruction, what the emerging technologies are, their limitations, and when they might fail – a crucial point when determining the remote and hostile location of much of the country’s infrastructure. He demonstrated some recent technology which makes use of a low-cost depth sensor for real-time 3D reconstruction.

PhD student at CSIC, Mehdi Alhaddad, explained how images can be used to monitor movement and discussed the advantages of using Digital Image Correlation (DIC) over conventional monitoring systems. He demonstrated CSIC’s vision on promoting this technology and what the future holds for how it can be best used.   

Using the example of monitoring a cast iron tunnel, he explained how CSIC is developing state of the art software to monitor and inspect structural movements more economically. He talked about the challenges ahead when deploying such technologies in large scale monitoring projects where monitoring data is not limited to one instrumentation, and presented CSIC’s vision of creating data interpretation platforms (Dashboards) that are used to increase the efficiency of interpreting monitoring data.

Simon Stent, another PhD student at CSIC, discussed the benefits of using image-based reconstruction over laser scanning technology, noting that the former boasts increased reliability and decreased cost.

Using the example of the Cambridge Heath Shaft – part of the Crossrail project – he used photographs to demonstrate how a 4D model of the site can be recovered to allow remote visualisation of the construction progress through time.

The models produced are sufficiently detailed to allow quantitative progress measurements, such as excavated volumes, to be made, as well as providing a valuable visual record of the construction.

He also explained how we can adapt the current technology to overcome difficulties presented by infrastructure, and how this cutting edge technology of 3D modelling and visual detection can be applied to other areas of our infrastructure, such as automated visual inspection of the National Grid Power Tunnel Network.

The presentations were well-received by the Industry Partners, many of whom could see how the technology demonstrated at the meeting could not only be used in civil engineering practice but how it will enhance current methods  and cut down time and cost, making the industry more effective and efficient.

“There are obvious gains to be had in both Construction and Maintenance phases in replacing or enhancing existing processes with Computer Vision”, said Laing O-Rourke’s James Thorpe. “Early engagement between industry and academia ensures that these are capitalised on by focusing the research. This has opened our eyes to the art of the possible.” 


Industry partners present:

Simon Stephenson – Arup

Peter Payne – Cementation Skanska

Malcolm Winterburn – itmsoil

Keith Bowers & Neil Moss – London Underground Ltd

James Thorpe – Laing O-Rourke

Andrew Powell Parsons – Brinckerhoff

Mark Lawton – Skanska

Hironori Asai – Toshiba Research Europe Limited

Yasuhiro Katsube – Toshiba of Europe Limited

For more information contact Helen Needham