National Highways sets out data-driven plan for Strategic Road Network

Digital twins, data sharing, predictive analytics and the use of drones all get a mention in Digital Roads five-year strategic plan

National Highways has unveiled a five-year plan comprising digital twins and data sharing to support the smooth running of the Strategic Road Network.

The virtual twin of the road network enables road management teams to predict the time and location of potholes and other maintenance issues. The strategy also covers intelligent road materials that can repair themselves.

From an operations perspective, National Highways has set out its ambition to make use of intelligent asset management by harnessing data and technology to enable predictive asset management. Among the innovative technologies for road building covered in the Introduction to digital roads strategy paper is the use of drones and aerial surveillance for surveys, reducing the need for pre-construction site visits and investigations.

National Highways said it wants the same data sources to be used across construction partners on all sites, providing a single source of the truth, which it said improves collaboration and delivery outcomes. The strategy also covers the regular use of digital rehearsal tools to rehearse construction site activities. According to National Highways, this results in more efficient delivery, improved safety and minimised customer disruption.

National Highways also plans to offer accurate, consistent and close to real-time information through the digital roads strategy, which it said will enable road users to react to potential hazards in advance. The strategy covers infrastructure to support the uptake of connected and autonomous vehicle safety technology.

For instance, it said customers would receive improved information to support journey planning, keeping traffic free-flowing, including the location and availability of charging infrastructure for low-emission vehicles.

Elliot Shaw, executive director of strategy and planning at National Highways, said: “We are at the beginning of a digital revolution on our roads network. 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.”

The digital road twin system is being developed in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, 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.

Ioannis Brilakis, director of the construction information technology laboratory at the University of Cambridge, said: “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.”

Read more about digitisation in transportation

  • Covid-19 showed why greater data granularity is key, with Transport for West Midlands turning to geospatial data to understand demand for services.
  • As transportation IoT networks improve with connectivity, embedded processing and sensing technology, society will move from point A to point B more efficiently and safely.

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