AI is Modernizing Underground Locating and Project Delivery

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Photo 101370901 / Artificial Intelligence © Alexandersikov |
Pat  Hohl's picture
Director - Electric Industry Solutions, Esri

Pat Hohl, PE, is Esri's director of electric industry solutions. He was a pioneer in the use of GIS for electric utilities. He has over 35 years of experience in utility engineering, technology...

  • Member since 2018
  • 145 items added with 207,227 views
  • May 8, 2023

My years in engineering and operations taught me the infrastructure beneath the street is an intricate and hazardous domain of pipes, cables, and conduits. As a result, underground recordkeeping and mapping have long been a considerable challenge for utilities. Every locating technique has strengths and weaknesses – but none are 100% complete.

I was delighted to learn of a new multi-sensor mapping technology that creates exceptionally accurate underground maps. Several sensors work together. AI's interpretation of the results is stunning!

Exodigo's non-intrusive methods "see" the underground mitigating risks due to costly utility strikes or redesigns.  

Pat Hohl: Are there existing techniques like Exodigo, or is this an entirely new solution?

Bret Simon: I view our non-intrusive multi-sensor fusion as a new solution. Every utility has GPR (ground penetrating radar) and EM (electromagnetic) locator units in their closet. However, utilities don't generally have the technical capacity to interpret sensor data, so they're only used occasionally for specific purposes. By improving underground information dramatically, we are changing the process altogether.  

The other difference with our approach is the use of AI/ML. No other company takes sensor data from multiple sensor types and processes it automatically, efficiently, and accurately with machine learning. We utilize GPR, electrical simulations, and gradiometers together. 

We partner with Esri to bring all of our subsurface data into one place for visualization, analysis, and decision-making. We deliver our data through ArcGIS, which is accessible and familiar to most utilities. Many utilities already use ArcGIS for mapping, and we want our insights to be as attainable and useful as possible.  

Pat Hohl: This technology is very intriguing. How did it come to be?  

Bret Simon: Exodigo's founders are technologists, and technical excellence is woven into our approach. Our three co-founders are all former elite Israeli intelligence analysts. They wanted to use their knowledge and understanding of signal processing and machine learning to solve the complex problem of accurate underground mapping. The scanning technology they developed is like a medical combination of MRI, CT scanning, and an ultrasound all in one. Multiple sensors combine their contributions for a comprehensive view of the underground environment.

Revolutionary technology fuses inputs from multiple sensors building a complete map with AI.

Pat Hohl: While various use cases exist for Exodigo's multi-sensor technology, what is the most significant value for utilities?

Bret Simon: The quality of our data offers utility customers certainty they can trust, reducing the need for verification or redundant activities. By comprehensively mapping the underground, we enable predictability in budgets and schedule. They know how much a project will cost, and how long it will take, before construction begins, which is really valuable in an industry where costly delays are common. While insurance usually covers damages themselves from strikes, utilities absorb the cost of the delay in project execution.

Pat Hohl: Can you walk me through how Exodigo ensures accuracy and what your results have looked like thus far?

Bret Simon: We are proud of our great track record and maintain it in a few ways. We check the findings of our AI algorithms with human geophysicists, and as we do that, the algorithms learn and improve.

Secondly, we have a scoring system for our data, so we only share lines we are certain about. So we are confident there is a line there whenever we mark something as a line on our map. If we aren't 100% sure, we label it with different levels and colors depending on our degree of certainty.

Pat Hohl: Many utility companies are undertaking a massive effort to underground lines across the country. The process is slow, challenging, and very costly. Do you believe Exodigo can lower the overall cost of undergrounding power lines?

Bret Simon: Without a doubt. Ultimately, lowering costs goes back to design certainty for risk mitigation. Every utility wants to reduce that cost per mile to underground, and we help designers avoid high-cost areas. Using our data, they can pinpoint precisely where utilities are, which allows them to use lower-cost construction methods. We also reduce idle time. By accurately mapping the underground, we maximize productivity. All those things come together and allow our clients to reduce the cost per mile of their undergoing efforts. Going further, utilities can also visualize that data and store it after completion to use in future projects, but even just for one project, the ROI is high.

Pat Hohl: Tell me a bit about your current customers.  

Bret Simon: We are working with several top utilities. Names you'd recognize as leaders including PG&E, Florida Power & Light, Xcel Energy, and National Grid to determine utility locations and speed up construction projects. We're excited to keep expanding our footprint around the world to de-risk the underground as broadly as possible.

With Exodigo's insights, PG&E reduced cross-bore risk score from 5 to 2 and took action only where necessary.

Pat Hohl: I am sure that Exodigo has big plans for the coming years. Can you share anything about what the future looks like for your technology?

Bret Simon: We definitely do! Our product roadmap can be split into two parts: hardware and software. At this time, our operations team is performing all our scans. From a hardware standpoint, our biggest project right now is to enable our clients to do their own scans. On the software side of things, we are expanding our identification capabilities to provide maps of bedrock, water, and other natural features in addition to pipes, wires, and conduits.

Pat Hohl: Thank you. There is a real need to modernize underground locating and mapping – I'm very excited about this new data and its use in ArcGIS. Where can readers learn more about Exodigo?

Bret Simon: This video shows our technology in under 2 minutes. Please visit our website ( and follow us on Linkedin.

Bret Simon leads US utility and energy partnerships at Exodigo. Before Exodigo, he spent 12+ years working with electric and gas utility companies such as Arizona Public Service, Entergy, Duke, PG&E, and others. Previously, Bret was the Director of Utility Solutions at Unearth Technologies and held senior advisory roles at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and IBM. He graduated with a Bachelor's in Finance and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management.

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