Health & Wellbeing

A predictor of success

Published Feb 1, 2018

Every year, landslides kill thousands of people and cost billions of dollars around the globe. Now, new technology from a student-led research project looks set to revolutionise the way geotechnical engineers monitor and predict landslides, helping to save countless lives and expense as a result.

“The holy grail of managing landslide risk is prediction,” says Nick Willis, Viclink’s Commercialisation Manager, Engineering (pictured). “But predictions can only be made if movement—or, more importantly, the acceleration of land mass—can be measured right down to the number of millimetres per day, over a long period of time.” 

Nick, who has been working alongside the researchers to bring the product to market, says that the most common traditional method of measurement involves sending a surveyor or engineer out into the field each day to measure land movement with theodolites—a manual, costly process. He says even the higher tech options have their drawbacks. “Robotic survey instruments can cost in the region of $20,000 per site, while drone, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and satellite imaging techniques do not give the required accuracy or spatial and temporal density required.” 

So when Engineering and Computer Science student Jonathan Olds was looking for a research project for his Master’s, his supervisor Professor Winston Seah—a highly regarded expert in the Internet of Things and wireless sensors—suggested developing and testing an automated solution for the long-term monitoring of landslides. The result of that research is AccuMM, which Jonathan validated with a pilot installation in Taiwan. 

AccuMM uses low-cost solar or battery-powered wireless GPS sensors together with a unique, cloud-based algorithm to calculate the X, Y, Z location of each sensor, relative to a fixed-base station. This enables daily measurements to be taken at multiple points on a landslide without the need for site visits, with no line-of-sight or cabling requirements, and no need for intervention at the site for five or more years. “For sustainable long-term deployment of wireless sensor networks, renewable energy technologies like energy harvesting are essential,” says Professor Seah. “Powering wireless sensor networks using ambient energy harvesting is a key focus of my ongoing research.” 

The patented algorithm processes fragments of raw GPS measurements from the sensors to achieve 4mm accuracy, sending the data to geotechnical engineers for interpretation and analysis. 

Following on from the pilot in Taiwan, the tech is now being trialled closer to home in areas where landslides have occurred, monitoring the transport corridors in Kaikoura, Kapiti Coast and Wellington. 

“Approximately 66 million people (one percent of the world’s population) are currently affected by 820,000 square kilometres of high-risk landslide areas,” says Nick. “Add to that events such as global warming, changing rainfall patterns and aging infrastructure and it’s not hard to see the increasing need for this kind of tech.” 

Nick says that AccuMM’s target market is geotechnical engineering companies that undertake long-term analysis and monitoring of landslide risk, as AccuMM measures but does not interpret the data or send real-time alerts.

“We’ve been weighing up the options for potential pathways to market, and identifying companies in the supply chain—from the infrastructure owners, to the consulting firms and specialist manufacturers. Each provide a key part in the value chain.” 

After connecting with a number of those companies, Nick is already in talks with some of the major players in the industry. 

“Nick has been a huge help in getting this solution off the ground and into the market where it can make a difference,” says Professor Seah. “At the end of the day, we are researchers not businessmen, so it’s great to have Viclink’s knowledge of the commercialisation process at our fingertips, and Nick working alongside us every step of the way.” 

For more information, please contact Hamish Findlay or Winston Seah


Media Coverage: 

NewsHub - 14 March 2018

BBC World Service - 15 March 2018

Radio New Zealand - This Way Up - 31 March 2018