In the facility locating industry there is testing of real-time gathering of underground infrastructure location information (GPS) and the drill path.

We have all heard about the TV show "Big Brother" that is based on the concept that some day big brother will be watching you. The TV program is made possible with new technology such as miniature cameras that can be placed anywhere and Internet connectivity, which makes it possible for EVERYONE to watch. I have some good news for you. I just heard about this technology being applied to the horizontal directional drilling job site with a constructive, meaningful and preventative purpose.

In December 1997, I wrote about "HDD Safety Guidelines Changing Tooling At The Exit Pit. Most deaths I have heard of related to HDD have been due to crew members (often down in a pit, out of view) getting clothing caught in the backreamer or not being out of the way when the operator begins to pull the backreamer back though the pilot hole. The laborer is literally pulled into the hole, killing him without the operator even knowing what happened.

Rules: If at all possible, use radios and stay in constant communication when removing the drill head and attaching backreamers. Never attach a pipe wrench or grab hold of a reamer without clearing it with the guy at the drill rack. Also, don't wear loose clothing around rotating drill pipe."

Constant communication at the exit pit (pipe side) is important. I just heard about a way to maintain contact with the exit pit area. It is called I-Cam. Inrock Drilling Systems is testing this new system, which like the "Big Brother" technology, stations a heavy-duty mounted camera at the exit pit area. The picture is transmitted wireless to a TV-type monitor at the drill operator's console. The entire system is specifically designed for and first tested in the HDD field environment. This is significant because Inrock realizes drillers have their unique set of rugged, unpredictable and widely varied field circumstances everyday. Inrock builds down hole tools and has come up with I-Cam, which I think has huge potential.

Other segments of the HDD industry are considering remote access to drilling. There is beta testing of monitoring the drill head and transmitting that data back to a remote site (job trailer or office computer). In the facility locating industry there is testing of real-time gathering of underground infrastructure location information (GPS) and the drill head path. Another manufacturer is testing new instrumentation that will electronically gather the topography of the bore path and integrate this data into a computer based "bore planner."

"Big brother is watching you." Doesn't that have a better ring to it when you think about the drilling operator being able to maintain visual communication at all times with the pipe side of the job? Inrock tells me that the camera will deliver a clear picture of an area 19 feet wide by 15 feet high. I'm impressed. Until next time.