Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Software

AI Predicts Manhole Explosions In New York City 213

Posted by kdawson
from the hell's-own-pop-top dept.
reillymj writes "Every so often, a 300-pound manhole cover blows sky high in Gotham, followed sometimes by a column of flame and smoke. (There are a few hundred 'manhole incidents' per year in the city, not all of them this dramatic.) Researchers from Columbia University applied machine learning algorithms to Con Edison's warren of aging electrical wires and sewage access points around Manhattan. As the system learns where dangerous mixtures of sewer gas and decrepit wiring are likely to come in contact, it makes forecasts about trouble spots, including where the next explosion may occur. The team has just completed rankings for manholes in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and plans to return to Manhattan's grid, armed with the most recent inspection and repair data." The research was published in the July issue of Machine Learning.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

AI Predicts Manhole Explosions In New York City

Comments Filter:
  • by DriedClexler (814907) on Friday July 09, 2010 @08:44AM (#32849488)

    I thought those manhole popping incidents were due to the heavy microwave emitter vaporizing the water?

    • by lennier1 (264730)

      Does that mean CowboyNeal wasn't involved after all?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by DJRumpy (1345787)

        Did anyone else read this and immediately just start giggling? In my defense, it IS Friday...

        AI Predicts Manhole Explosions In New York City

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Friday July 09, 2010 @08:47AM (#32849500) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if anybody has ever died from being hit on the head with one of these, seems it is likely. Shouldn't there be a way to secure the covers to the ground with a bolt that would at least cause the cover to not fly up but just turn over in case of an explosion?

    • by Linker3000 (626634) on Friday July 09, 2010 @08:53AM (#32849540) Journal
      They should just put them on bungee cords so they shoot into the air and then slam back down in place.
    • by RobertLTux (260313) <robert AT laurencemartin DOT org> on Friday July 09, 2010 @08:55AM (#32849558)

      the problem is that just about any bolting scheme will fail due to the bolting frame getting ripped out of the street if something big enough goes BOOM.

      oh btw i think most manhole covers in major cities are bolted down for security reasons

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        oh btw i think most manhole covers in major cities are bolted down for security reasons

        sure, they're bolted, but it's usually just a pentagonal head that's not particularly difficult to come up with. further, if you really want in, you can use a vehicle-mounted welder to weld a rebar handle onto the bolt so you can turn it with a cheater bar, or a vehicle-mounted plasma cutter to cut it out. This can be done in a surprisingly short period of time and there is ample opportunity around 3am in most cases.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:09AM (#32849670)

          you spend an oddly large amount of time planning to break into sewers. Personally I put most of my effort into avoiding rivers of shit.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            you spend an oddly large amount of time planning to break into sewers. Personally I put most of my effort into avoiding rivers of shit.

            There's a lot below manhole covers besides shit.

            This took zero time planning; I have simply welded a bolt to the head of another bolt to get it out before. It's not rocket science. Hell, all you need is a couple of car batteries, some jumper cables, and some welding rod to do this, although you will want some way to clean the top of the bolt first.

            • by MBGMorden (803437)

              There's a lot below manhole covers besides shit.

              I know! I saw a documentary back in the 80's about a bunch of people living down there. One of them (I think his name was Vincent) had some weird mutation or birth defect or something though.

            • by MetalPhalanx (1044938) on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:31AM (#32849900)

              A friend of mine who does some professional photography takes some really cool pictures while "draining". There are a lot of neat places down there!

              http://www.flickr.com/photos/cshepherdson/ [flickr.com]

              • Sewer gas (Score:3, Informative)

                by westlake (615356)

                A friend of mine who does some professional photography takes some really cool pictures while "draining". There are a lot of neat places down there!

                Yes there are.

                But you can die in the drains - and it can happen very quickly.

                Sewer gas is mostly methane but may include hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Improper disposal of petroleum products such as gasoline and mineral spirits can add to the fun. [freely adapted from the Wikipedia]

                Methane is something

        • by ProppaT (557551)

          If someone really wants one, they're going to get one...but I think the point was it's to prevent pranksters (read kids/teens) from pulling them out for fun. I fell in a loose manhole cover once...these things are dangerous if not secured properly or tampered with.

          • by delinear (991444)
            I wonder, is there any reason they're a solid block and not a grid of bars or something instead - that way they help with draining and would surely alleviate the explosive build up situation too, which might mean you can secure them even better (I guess half the reason they're not that secure is because at the moment you want them to act as a vent if there's an explosive build up, at least the damage then happens in a location you can guarantee easy access to as opposed to under someone's home).
            • by bws111 (1216812)

              Because it is better to have rain, melting snow, etc draining into the sewer than into tunnels filled with electrical equipment and steam pipes.

            • by swb (14022)

              I think you're onto something. The storm drains around here are basically just a row of bars; you couldn't ever fall through one but the gaps are large enough that magnets, string and sticks were deployed for toy extraction as kids.

              With manhole covers, I think they want the minimal amount of drainage into them since they are generally for access to either sanitary sewers (which can get inundated in heavy rainfall and overflow discharge where you don't want them to) or electrical/comm vaults which don't mix

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        I mean bolts and some hinges to turn the thing over and slam it into the ground rather than for it to fly up

      • Around in Paris and the suburb (wonderful Banlieue...) all manhole cover can be removed with a metal crowbar. there is no bolting. And this is the first time I *ever* hear of manhole cover blowing up (stolen , oh yes, as a dangerous prank). I got the feeling it is not the wide spread problem in major city you think it is.
      • by AikonMGB (1013995)

        I think the OP was proposing something along the lines of a hinged joint, such that as the pressure underneath the cover increased, it would pivot the cover about this hinge, somewhat like a butterfly [wikipedia.org] valve. An interesting proposition, though I'm not certain how you would stop it from flipping over if a heavy enough vehicle drove over it.

        Aikon-

      • They're often welded to the frame for theft prevention. IIRC when metals prices were peaking, there was a rash of manhole cover thefts in Detroit. Apparently it got bad enough that it became a substantial road hazard in some areas.

    • Good idea.

      Submit it to the NYC government. The most costly thing is maintenance of the old monuments and buildings and infrastructure created by previous politicians.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:20AM (#32849788) Homepage Journal

      I wonder if anybody has ever died from being hit on the head with one of these

      Obviously, there is some danger, but still, how cool is it that manhole covers are shooting into the air in a column of flame?

      Just a little something to make a New Yorker's day just that much more stressful.

    • Why not vent the inspection covers? It would be trivial to create a manhole cover with a one-way valve to allow pressure to escape without explosively ejecting the whole thing.

      Ah, I've just read a little lower down. As dkleinsc said, "maybe because there are no financial consequences to any organization if a manhole cover gets launched 300' up and lands on some 3-year-old."

      I'm going to go one step further and use the word legal instead of financial.
    • by russotto (537200)

      I wonder if anybody has ever died from being hit on the head with one of these, seems it is likely. Shouldn't there be a way to secure the covers to the ground with a bolt that would at least cause the cover to not fly up but just turn over in case of an explosion?

      I think any reasonable bolt would shear off in one of these incidents; it wouldn't hold it down, just make it tumble more. There are devices which allow controlled release of gas under the manhole during an explosion, but I imagine it comes down

    • And for once the goatse spammer wouldn't have been off-topic.

  • So many possibilities with a name like that. Naming an indie band would be the most obvious.

  • Et voila, no more gas build up, no more explosions.

    Even if they're primarily covers for electrical boxes there are obviously drains or some other means by which the sewer gas infiltrates.

    Seems like the little bit of rain or snow that would get in through vents would be able to drain away.

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:25AM (#32849826)

      Southern California Edison requires two ventilating pylons for each manhole. They are much bigger than you might expect, and need to be spaced apart. It greatly increases planning complexity.

      Methane build-up is only one cause though. Venting that causes ...odors... that people tend to not want to be near. The more common cause is failure of oil-filled equipment ranging from link switches to transformers to oil-insulated cables. When these go you need someplace for the explosion to expand to... or you will destroy everything in the manhole.

      This is an interesting solution to the problem, but I have trouble understanding how it is more effective than root-cause analysis and post-incident review of data they already have. It isn't like the combination of factors is the problem... more like aging and over-burdened equipment that should already be on a predictive-maintenance plan.

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        Venting that causes ...odors... that people tend to not want to be near.

        No big deal.. Methane is actually one of the more pleasant odors in New York.

    • by RevWaldo (1186281)
      Actually in New York street vents are all over the place [forgotten-ny.com]. Knowing what street vents are separates the real NYers (and civil engineers) from the rest.

      .
  • WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dr. Hok (702268) on Friday July 09, 2010 @08:59AM (#32849588)
    That's a joke, right? Exploding manhole covers? In pre-Snake Plissken-New York? OMG
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:00AM (#32849590)
    I predict massive manhole manhole cover blowouts and big explosions anywhere within a mile radius of the next Michael Bay movie.
  • So they are now doing villians that spend their time blowing up manhole covers. Remember the good old days when Gotham would be under the attack of villians like Ra's al Ghul and Bane.
  • Poo Energy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ukab the Great (87152) on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:09AM (#32849678)

    Couldn't they harness all that energy that blows up manhole covers into some kind of renewable energy? Feed the sewer gas back into natural gas lines, attach pistons to manhole covers, etc

  • In all seriousness (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:17AM (#32849762) Homepage

    So we have millions of people desperate for work, and a whole lot of dangerous wiring all over New York City. Why aren't we (and by "we", I mean ConEd or any level of government) investing in training up as many electricians as we can and replacing the bad wiring while it's relatively cheaper to do so?

    Oh, wait, maybe because there are no financial consequences to any organization if a manhole cover gets launched 300' up and lands on some 3-year-old.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Cost of law suit vs bad wiring, it the old line "when there are enough tombstones the technology gets fixed"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I suspect that there are several complicating factors:

      Getting electricians who are competent to work on high voltage or high current distribution systems(and not make the situation worse) is probably a trifle harder than getting ones capable of doing home wiring without the place burning down(the latter, now that the fad for building shitty houses in the exurbs that nobody wants, should be in excellent supply). Not impossible; but you are probably looking at a nontrivial amount of theory, plus some time
    • So we have millions of people desperate for work, and a whole lot of dangerous wiring all over New York City. Why aren't we (and by "we", I mean ConEd or any level of government) investing in training up as many electricians as we can and replacing the bad wiring while it's relatively cheaper to do so?

      Because "relatively cheaper" is still pretty dang expensive - because you still have to buy all the tools, vehicles, etc... these 'cheap' employees will need to do their jobs. (As well as paying medical, pens

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      As I don't live in NYC, I just checked out their [coned.com] website for the first site. The "about us" section describes how they make $13 billion revenue.. And still, the site I'm presented with looks like this: http://j.imagehost.org/view/0334/Untitled_8 [imagehost.org] in my browser. Checking out the sources it seems this masterpiece is coded in classic ASP.

      Now don't get me wrong, but why does a company with such a high profile present the world such a peace of misery? I mean, this is one of the most important interfaces they have

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Money. How much are you willing to pay for this additional service?

  • Some wise guy just noticed one day that all known incidents happened near the locations of Taco Bell toilet sewer pipe connections, and so extrapolated the other locations from all known franchise pipe connections.
  • by shish (588640)

    Every so often, a 300-pound manhole cover blows sky high in Gotham, followed sometimes by a column of flame and smoke.

    Video or it didn't happen.

  • Won't a "save" or two totally screw with the AI's pattern matching since the gas isn't building up the same way as it would have? It will have to let a lot go pop before learning a new pattern.
    • I would assume that there is some way for maintenance incidents to be fed into the system. Heck, those are probably even more instructive than simple explosions; because it is a lot easier to measure things like transformer coolant levels/temps, line amperages, atmospheric methance concentrations, etc. before everything is a smoldering mess...
  • History Channel:The Crumbling of America
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBSPcIGGcIc [youtube.com]
  • by What'sInAName (115383) on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:44AM (#32850030) Homepage Journal

    One time I witnessed one of these explosions in Boston, and let me tell you, it's quite impressive! It was a hot August day and I was standing about 20 ft away from it, when out of nowhere, BOOMBOOMBOOM! There were actually a series of explosions that knocked the manhole cover a foot or two in the air each time, and each time the cover came back down perfectly on the hole, as if nothing ever happened. There was a college kid who was even closer to it than I was. He was just a few feet away when it happened and I could see that it shook him up pretty badly.

    I asked the workman who was there a short time later what exactly had happened and he said a transformer had blown.

  • Do they have any way to measure the accuracy of the prediction algorithm? The article says of a 'blind study'that "The top 2 percent of manholes ranked as vulnerable by the algorithm included 11 percent of the manholes that had recently had a fire or explosion" but to me that seems like statistical blather: do they mean that if they ranked 10,000 manholes and there had been 100 incidents recently then the top 200 manholes they ranked included 11 manholes that had incidents? And if the answer to that is
  • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Friday July 09, 2010 @10:11AM (#32850250)
    but can it predict whether it lands heads or tails?

    .
  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Friday July 09, 2010 @10:11AM (#32850252)

    The research was published in the July issue of Machine Learning.

    Too bad, because if it had been published in the Journal of Machine Learning Research [mit.edu] instead, people might actually be able to read it [sigir.org].

  • Making predictions is not impressive. Making *accurate* predictions is. I'm sure you could get a psychic to predict this too if you paid one.
  • by odin84gk (1162545) on Friday July 09, 2010 @10:43AM (#32850592)

    Con Edison blind-tested the team’s model by withholding information on a recent set of fires and explosions. The top 2 percent of manholes ranked as vulnerable by the algorithm included 11 percent of the manholes that had recently had a fire or explosion, Rudin notes.

    According to the article, there are about 51,000 manholes in New York. A few hundred explosions occur every year. (Lets say 300). So the algorithm listed (51,000*.02)=1020 manholes that were high risk. Out of that 1020 manholes, they were correct on (300*.11)=33 manholes.

    In my industry, we would call this a complete failure. Even the weather forecaster would call this a failure. It reminds me of Demolition Man

    Chief George Earle: We can just wait for another code to go red. And when Phoenix performs another Murder Death Kill, we'll know exactly where to pounce.
    John Spartan: [sarcastic] Great plan.
    Chief George Earle: [not realising the sarcasm] Thank you.
    Erwin: He likes your plan, Chief!

  • by wzzzzrd (886091) on Friday July 09, 2010 @10:49AM (#32850656)
    ...err, foreigners. Don't use words like "manhole" in headlines. My native tongue isn't English, and you don't want to know what kind of associations comes to a foreign mind while reading the word "manhole".
    • There used to be a gay bar in Chicago's "boys Town" neighborhood called "The Manhole". Never went in myself, mind you. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  • And what can you say about them?

Two can Live as Cheaply as One for Half as Long. -- Howard Kandel

Working...