Natural gas operators in the San Juan Basin were experiencing several employee accidents due to the drivers getting lost enroute. The problem was solved by developing a customised navigation solution that enabled the drivers to safely navigate while keeping their eyes on the road. Read on to know more…
In 2006, a major natural gas operator in the North American Colorado’s San Juan Basin had several motor vehicle accidents within i ts extensive employee and contract workforce. After initial investigations, it was discovered that among all of these accidents, each incident had one major element in common: the drivers had become lost. A driver who becomes lost while he or she is on the clock can and will lead to them becoming panicked. A panicked driver will make bad decisions and short cuts that he or she may not have made otherwise. This situation required immediate attention. The operator along with team members from ESC Engineering formed a committee and brainstormed potential resolutions for this major safety risk factor amongst its contract and employee work force.
In this committee, we looked at all the factors that would be involved in a driver becoming lost and how to provide adequate safe direction to the work force. Paper maps and map books were already deployed and had been for most of this operator’s existence. However, paper maps and map books may actually have contributed to the problem. Paper maps and map books required the operator to take their eyes off the road; they are cumbersome and can leave much guesswork as to the drivers’ location. The solution would need to be a mapping concept that was intelligent, easily updatable, simple to use and which would enable the vehicle operators to keep their eyes on the road and their hands upon the wheel.
The committee came up with a couple of new ideas. One of the ideas was to load their current GIS maps onto on board lap top computers and attach a GPS puck. This would allow the drivers to see their position within the maps and know their direction of travel. This idea solved the problem of the driver becoming lost; however, it still presented the problem of the driver having to take their eyes off the road to view the map. In addition to the inherent safety issues with this idea, it would also be very expensive to deploy. We knew there was still much work to be done in finding the right solution.
Through natural evolution of ideas and brainstorming, we came to the conclusion that our initial idea would have merit if the on-board computer could audibly provide that direction. This would allow the driver to keep their eyes on the road at all times. It was at this point that the committee considered that if we could use our custom GIS map sets in an on board GPS navigational unit that would offer a heads up display, provide audible turn by turn alerts, was easy to use, and relatively inexpensive, we would have our solution.
With a theoretical solution in front of us, it was now time to determine the most intelligent way to go about loading our custom GIS road navigation data sets onto a commercial in-vehicle navigation unit and turn this from a sound theory to great prototype.
We were able, through the use of a third party, to broker a license agreement with the industry leading automobile navigational unit developer. This license agreement and software enabled us to convert our custom road and facilities GIS data into a format that is compatible with these units.
Once the appropriate licensing was taken granted and the software installed, we were then able to determine what would need to be done in order to convert their feature classes to a format that these units would accept. Once this was established, we began the data cleanup and conversion process.
The cleanup process required that the road data set be completely networked and 100 per cent traceable. Intersections had to be drawn appropriately.Dangles and over shoots in road line segments had to be located, addressed, and repaired for network connectivity. All this would be required for routing within the GIS as well as within the on-board navigation units.
After weeks of road data cleanup, the conversion process began. This process required the addition of data fields that were not previously maintained in the data set. Fields such as route level, speed limit, and several others would need to be added with the data schema adjusted accordingly. Accurate population of these fields required some research both in the field and in the office.
The conversion would require that we migrate the data from the feature classes that they were currently in, into a format that would be compatible with the on-board navigational units we had chosen. Once we understood the requirements, this was quite simple and was completed expeditiously. This process simply required that we exported a shape file from the existing feature class utilising a coordinate system of WGS 84.
We had now moved from theory to a prototype that was ready to go to the field. This prototype proved successful and was very helpful in determining exact route levels and speed limits in a gas field where very little of this information was previously established. After two weeks of testing, we were ready to roll this product out to the San Juan Basin fleet.
Now, through the process of drivers utilising this tool and providing “real world” feedback, we are able to continually provide updates and improve the data that is being disseminated. As a result of this process, we have the ability to monitor and enhance the value of this tool well into the future.
Thus, the navigation solution developed has been very successful for operators in the San Juan Basin and has expanded to include other assets and operators. There are now over 1000 in-vehicle navigational units being utilised amongst employee and contract workforces in both North American gas fields, as well as oil and gas fields in the Middle East. Using customised, accurately mapped GIS data, with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, drivers can now safely navigate the tens of thousands of miles of road to over 10,000 facilities.
In 2009 we were able to add potential hazards into these custom data sets. Dangers may include limited visibility areas, sharp turns, narrow roads, etc. This has allowed drivers to be audibly warned of these various dangers upon approach.
Since inception, there has been a significant decrease in vehicle accidents whose root cause was the driver being lost. In addition to the inherent safety features, many other benefits have been realised. Drivers do not inadvertently trespass. We can configure these road data sets to route drivers around potential problem areas. The drive time to destinations can be accurately measured and accounted for. We are able to calculate drive times in the office before staff head out into the field. Drive time is automatically calculated and or re-calculated in the vehicle as traffic or weather conditions change. Additionally, while difficult to measure, much time is saved navigating the many miles of roads to all facilities. Some have said that the time saved has paid for the project many times over.
Custom GPS navigation is a cost-effective and cost saving benefit to any up and coming or fully developed GIS system. This allows the benefits of safe and efficient travel for any organisation’s mobile workforce.
Project Manager, ESC Engineering