Highways England has revealed it is to create a digital twin of the UK’s roads network as part of a new Digital Roads strategy.
Once completed, the digital twin is said to be able to predict the time and location of potholes and other maintenance issues, reduce the time and costs in on-site inspections, prevent unnecessary delays, and reduce emissions from roadworks by as much as 50%.
Highways England’s 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.”
Highways England is developing the digital twin with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the EU MSCA COFUND programme, Costain, and the University of Cambridge.
It will replace drawings and static models with digital versions that can identify when maintenance is needed, and combine live data from intelligent sensors in the road surface with a digital twin that visualises the road and its condition.
The project is funded by an £8.6m grant from the EPSRC Digital Roads Prosperity Partnership and a £6m grant from the EU MSCA COFUND Future Roads Fellowships programme.
‘Greener, smoother, safer journeys’
The University of Cambridge‘s 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.”
Roads minister Baroness Vere said: “From digital road models that can predict where maintenance is needed on the real-life road network, to self-repairing road surfaces, and automated cone laying machines, we’re committed to keeping the UK at the forefront of technological developments.
“I’m therefore delighted that National Highways’ vision reflects this, benefitting road users for many years to come with greener, smoother, safer journeys.”
The overall vision for Digital Roads goes as far as 2050 and beyond.
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