News - Construction News

Vision Set Out for Digital Road Revolution

National Highways, formerly known as Highways England, has set out its vision for a once-in-a-lifetime digital revolution which will fundamentally change roads.

A virtual twin of the road network, which can predict the time and location of potholes along with other maintenance issues, is just one of the new innovations that is set to transform National Highways’ future operations.

Other initiative which could lead the charge on a digital revolution for UK roads include a intelligent road materials which would be able to repair themselves as well as more connected and autonomous plant. These are just some of the systems due to be rolled out as part of National Highways’ Digital Roads strategy, which was outlined last week on a new Digital Roads website and ‘virtual learning environment’.

The website clearly sets out how National Highways Digital Roads 2025 vision and how growth of digital technology and the move to electric, connected and autonomous vehicles will fundamentally change roads in the future.

National Highways Executive Director of Strategy and Planning Elliot Shaw said: “We are at the beginning of a digital revolution on our roads network, a once-in-a-century transformation which will fundamentally change how our roads are designed, built, operated and used.

“The Digital Roads journey, the strategy that will create the roads of the future, is huge. It covers every aspect of the roads infrastructure from design and construction to how roads are operated to the changing experience for all road users.

“Digital Roads will make our roads safer and greener. Improvements and maintenance will be delivered more quickly with less disruption and road users will have a far better end-to-end journey experience, with savings on time and the cost of travel.”

National Highways is laying the foundations of the Digital Roads vision with several ambitious partnerships working at the forefront of technology. The road twinning system is being developed in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the EU MSCA COFUND programme, construction and engineering company Costain and the University of Cambridge. It will see drawings and static models replaced with digital versions that can identify when maintenance is needed.

The system is being developed thanks to two grants: the £8.6 million EPSRC Digital Roads Prosperity Partnership grant and the £6 million EU MSCA COFUND Future Roads Fellowships programme.

Combining ‘live’ data from intelligent materials in the existing road surface with a digital twinning system that visualises the road and its condition will identify when maintenance work is needed, with roads able to repair themselves using self-healing materials. This will dramatically reduce the need for time-consuming and costly on-site inspections, prevent unnecessary delays to drivers and reduce the emissions generated by roadworks.

The University of Cambridge Principal Investigator of these grants Dr Ioannis Brilakis said: “It is high time the transportation infrastructure sector embraced digital transformation. We should strive to replace drawings and static 3D models with dynamic and data-rich Digital Twins, pdf documents with databases, file exchange with cloud permissions exchange, passive materials with smart materials able to sense and heal themselves and automate all manual routine maintenance. All this is possible on a data science foundation, able to generate rich, data-driven insights to help us make better decisions.”

As well as reducing disruption for drivers, these steps will reduce the associated carbon emissions by around 50 per cent and help to meet the target of zero injuries or deaths on the network by 2040.

The Digital Roads vision for the strategic road network supports the Government’s ambition of ‘the UK being a world leader in shaping the future of transport’ and supporting Britain’s growth. For example, digital design and construction could reduce scheme delivery times by up to 50 per cent.

National Highways recognises that realising the vision will rely on the continued support of the supply chain and stakeholders. We are preparing to launch a Digital Roads innovation competition later in the year looking for fresh ideas and involvement.

This will be funded through the Innovation and Modernisation designated fund. For more details about the National Highways Innovation and Research strategy visit the Digital Roads website.

If you would like to read more stories like this, then please click here