Sun Biz: Guardian ProStar, a Grand Junction-based company aims to help find underground utilities
Putting together a million-piece jigsaw puzzle is nothing compared to the job that awaits the federal and state governments, to say nothing of large contractors and excavators.
The job is making sense of a labyrinth of more than 30 million miles of utilities buried at various depths across the nation.
Twenty million times a year, someone sticks a shovel into the earth, or more likely fires up a backhoe for the same purpose.
Rub those numbers together, and it’s probable that somewhere, sometime the shovel or bucket will slice into a water pipe, gas line, electrical conduit, fiber-optic cable or, perhaps worst of all, a sewer.
“You put all that together and you have trouble,” said Page Tucker of Guardian ProStar, a Grand Junction-based technology startup company aimed at helping utilities, governments and the guy in the backyard find a path through the jumble of utilities that underlies the modern world.
“The No. 1 locate tool in the United States is unfortunately the bucket of a backhoe,” Tucker said.
Utilities keep maps, as do government agencies, but no one puts them together for a three-dimensional depiction of what lies beneath. Too often, the maps are inaccurate, outdated, or both.
Guardian ProStar would provide that picture, using a Microsoft platform that accumulates data for an ever-growing database, one that accumulates more information each time it’s used, Tucker said.
Technicians call it “hardware and software agnostic,” meaning it can collect data from any kind of system or program and share with any similar system or program.
However agnostic it might be, the Guardian ProStar system could be the Holy Grail for planners, designers, data locators and heavy-equipment operators trying to understand precisely where — and where not — to dig, Tucker said.
That’s to say nothing of the utilities that would just as soon not have to repair damage from uninformed digging, backhoe operators, construction foremen and even children who occasionally play on or around utilities believed safely buried under the earth.
Guardian ProStar’s proprietary process for tracking and preserving the locations of underground utilities, as logged into a geographic information service databank, is about to get a real-world test.
The Virginia Utility Protection Service, the one-call service for the state, wants to locate all of its utilities, then mark and track their location, all employing advances in GIS, GPS and mobile technologies.
That’s exactly what Guardian ProStar, http://www.guardianprostar.
com, is set up to do. The company was selected to establish a portal that could integrate all the pieces of the puzzle.
The process of gathering, storing, retrieving and tracking the data will be so precise as to take into account tectonic motion over years , Tucker said.
Guardian ProStar won’t actually own the data it collects. That will belong to the companies or governments that provide the utilities data. But it now has three patents on the process that will track them and make it available at a moment’s notice, if necessary.
Guardian ProStar — and it’s no accident that the name gets shortened to GPS — worked with Grand Junction attorney Ed Hartz, formerly senior managing partner of Christie Parker & Hale, an intellectual-property law firm, to acquire the patents, which have it well-positioned for the next steps in the business’ life cycle, Tucker said.
Guardian ProStar has four more pending patents and another in the application stage, he said.
A successful audition in Virginia this year could ready the startup for the show of the century, the infrastructure side of the federal stimulus package that is taking final shape in Congress.
Before the federal government spends billions of dollars on infrastructure, “They’re going to want to know what’s below the ground,” and the company is gearing up for that aspect of the job, Tucker said.
Guardian ProStar is awaiting a request for proposal due by the end of the month that specifically will require the accurate storage and retrieval of data about buried assets from GIS and GPS technologies, Tucker said.
Ultimately, Tucker sees Guardian ProStar licensing its process to a larger partner, possibly even the federal government, for management of the world beneath the surface.
The end of the process, though, will come with the construction crew that has a complete picture of the land beneath before it even begins to turn a shovel.