Underground Radar Detects Hidden Damage


Years after Hurricane Katrina struck, the southern Louisiana city of Slidell is benefitting from an underground pipe inspection technology developed at Louisiana Tech University.

Forgoing the need to dig trenches to expose pipes and other underground infrastructure for inspection, the system is able to identify and document damage that had gone undetected in the months and years following the 2005 deadly storm, the university announced.

Based on a new technology called ultra-wide band (UWB) pulsed radar, developed at Louisiana Tech’s Trenchless Technology Center, the pipe-penetrating scanning system reportedly inspects buried pipelines, tunnels and culverts to detect fractures, quantify corrosion and determine the presence of voids in the surrounding soil often caused by storm water leaks and flooding.

How It Works

“Our UWB technology was based on recognizing the need within the trenchless industry for an advanced pipeline inspection tool that can quantify the structural integrity of buried municipal pipes like sewers and storm drains, and be able to see through the pipe wall,” said Dr. Arun Jaganathan, associate professor of civil engineering and construction engineering technology at Louisiana Tech. 

According to the school, the scanning technology makes use of leading-edge simulation, electronics, robotics, signal processing and three-dimensional renderings in a package that can be mounted on existing pipe-inspection robots.

“The radar system emits ultra-short electromagnetic pulses from inside of a sewer pipe and captures the signals ‘back-scattered’ from the pipe to determine the condition of various layers hidden behind the wall which we cannot directly see using visual tools such as a camera,” Jaganathan explained. 

“The radar is integrated into a robot which crawls through a pipe and relays the data back to the operator in real time.”

The Louisiana Tech system is unique in its ability to generate high-resolution images to allow engineers to inspect a particular spot in detail, he added.

Finding Its Purpose

The system got its start as the basis for Jaganathan’s Ph.D. dissertation research. He partnered on the study with fellow Louisiana Tech researcher Dr. Neven Simicevic and others.

Early on, Jaganathan reportedly hoped UWB would one day become a tool that municipal engineers could use for routine pipeline condition assessment.

That vision came to fruition when City of Slidell District F Council Member Jay Newcomb visited Louisiana Tech in September 2010. Looking for an opportunity to connect the city with high-tech industry, Newcomb learned of the team’s new radar technology, then still in the developmental stages.

“The research team said that if the innovation proved useful in lab tests, Slidell would be used as a beta site in actual field studies,” Newcomb noted.

Slidell, LA after Hurricane Katrina
By Liz Roll, FEMA Photo Library / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Louisiana Tech team tested their UWB technology on the underground infrastructure in Slidell, LA, areas of which had been flattened by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

By the summer of 2013, Jaganathan and other researchers came to Slidell to identify areas that would benefit most from the UWB, and to test the underground infrastructure issues. There they found that, as anticipated, compromised infrastructure was detectable using the UWB technology, proving its efficacy.

Moving Forward

“While we were aware of the depth and breadth of the problems that plagued our underground utilities and we knew surrounding communities had experienced similar problems, I believe it wasn’t until we … saw the results of the UWB investigation that we actually realized we could have quantifiable evidence of the scope of that damage,” said Newcomb.

As a result of the work of Jaganathan, Simicevic and the Louisiana Tech research team, and consultations with other engineering firms, the City of Slidell was able to secure $75 million in funding from FEMA to begin the underground utility restoration process, the school said.

“Our FY2017 total budget for the City of Slidell is just under $43 million,” said Newcomb. “We have almost two whole budgets to spend on streets, drainage and sewer thanks to the collective efforts of many, beginning with the research conducted by Louisiana Tech University.”

“What started as an academic research ultimately led to the development of a practical tool that our municipal engineers can use on a daily basis for the betterment of our infrastructure and society, as a whole,” Jaganathan said. 


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Colleges and Universities; Corrosion; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Infrastructure; Inspection equipment; Latin America; North America; Pipeline; Pipes; Quality Control; Research and development; Robotics; Software; Tunnel

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