The mission of the US Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a member-driven association of 1,700 individuals, organisations and sponsors drawn from every facet of the underground utility industry, is to prevent damage to North American underground infrastructure by promoting effective damage prevention practices.
A major manifestation of that mission is the CGA’s annual communications plan and calendar. The 2018 edition is a 152-page tome detailing the CGA’s own initiatives and providing details of a rich repository of resources available to utilities and the many state-based Call 811 (the equivalent of Dial Before You Dig) bodies.
This year's calendar includes details of a new resource, introduced in 2017, the interactive 811 Virtual Reality Experience. It was developed in conjunction with experiential marketing company Brightline Interactive and is offered to member organisations for use at events such as trade shows, home and garden shows and training/education events.
It uses the HTC Vive VR headset and custom software to allow people to enter a virtual world where they can see underground facilities that run under their virtual front yard.
Users have 81.1 seconds to call 811, wait for the marks that show where infrastructure exists under their virtual front yard and then dig virtually using hand controllers to place up to 10 landscaping and yard improvement items in their virtual front yard.
When they have completed the tasks and a short survey they receive an email with links enabling them to share an image of their virtual front yard on Facebook and Twitter.
CGA is not the only organisation exploiting VR to teach people about underground infrastructure. Source North America Corporation provides equipment for the construction and maintenance of gas stations, including the underground tanks and associated piping.
At the 2017 Petroleum Equipment Institute convention in Chicago in November Source demonstrated a VR experience that enabled participants to virtually look inside an underground storage tank, view underground piping and get a feel for how the various components interconnect.
Source’s VP of marketing, Joe O’Brien, explained: “Understanding underground fuelling infrastructure is a challenge for many people in our industry. Unless you are a contractor who installs fuelling systems on a regular basis, you seldom get to see exposed fuelling infrastructure with your own eyes.
“The VR really breaks down the barriers to understanding how it all works. It brings clarity to an aspect of fuel site operations that for a long time has been out of sight, out of mind.”
Which brings us back to the CGA and its mission. Underground infrastructure is out of sight and so often out of mind, which results in it being damaged by diggers. Putting it, virtually, in front of people’s eyes is a great way to bring it front of mind.
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