Initiatives that could lead the charge on a digital revolution for roads include intelligent road materials able to repair themselves and more connected and autonomous systems.
The new road twinning system – which can predict the time and location of potholes – 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.
The University of Cambridge Principal Investigator of these grants, Dr Ioannis Brilakis said: “It is high time the transportation infrastructure sector embraces 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.”
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.
Also in use or being developed are connected and autonomous plant, off-site fabrication and modular construction methods.
As well as reducing disruption for drivers, these steps will reduce the associated carbon emissions by around 50% and help to meet the target of zero injuries or deaths on the network by 2040.
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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%.
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.”