National Highways plans digital twin of England’s road network

Written by Gill Hitchcock on 6 September 2021 in News
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Digital roads strategy gets £14.6m to revolutionise maintenance and cut emissions from roadworks by 50%

Credit: Elliott Brown on Flickr

National Highways’ digital roads strategy promises a virtual twin of England’s motorways and major road network to predict the time and location of maintenance issues.

Under the plan, drawings and static models will be replaced with digital versions which can identify when and where potholes and other problems occur, and combine live data from sensors on the road surface with a digital twin which visualises the road and its condition.

National Highways, which replaced Highways England and the Highways Agency, believes this will reduce the time and cost of road inspections, prevent traffic jams and reduce emissions from roadworks by an estimated 50%.

The road twinning system is being developed in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the EU MSCA COFUND programme, Costain and the University of Cambridge.

Funding for the project is available from two sources: £8.6m from the EPSRC Digital Roads Prosperity Partnership and £6m from the EU MSCA COFUND Future Roads Fellowships programme.

Other initiatives in the strategy include intelligent road materials able to repair themselves using self-healing materials and autonomous cone-laying machines.

“It’s high time the transportation infrastructure sector embraced digital transformation." - Ioannis Brilakis

National Highways predicts that England’s road network is at the beginning of a digital revolution which will fundamentally change how roads are designed, built, operated and used.

Ioannis Brilakis, the University of Cambridge’s principal investigator of these grants, said: “It’s 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.

Baroness Charlotte Vere, the roads minister, said: “The use of technology enables National Highways to pre-empt situations rather than just responding to them. For example, sensor technology will forecast traffic levels, weather and environmental conditions enabling us to pre-emptively prepare and respond to situations.”

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