Our major roads are set to undergo a “once-in-a-lifetime digital revolution”, with a virtual twin of the road network that can predict the time and location of potholes just one of the planned initiatives.

The innovations have been announced as part of National Highways’ Digital Roads strategy, which will see roads digitally revolutionised.

Another proposal will see the introduction of intelligent road materials capable of repairing themselves.

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.”

An automated cone laying machine

An automated cone laying machine

“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 road twinning system is being created thanks to an £8.6 million EPSRC Digital Roads Prosperity Partnership grant and a £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.”

‘Live’ data will be provided by intelligent materials in the road surface. This will be combined with a “digital twinning system that visualises the road and its condition” and will subsequently identify when any maintenance work is required. The roads will then be able to repair themselves thanks to their self-healing materials, which will, amongst other things, help to limit delays for road users.

Other initiatives currently in development or already in use include connected and autonomous plant, off-site fabrication and modular construction methods.

These steps will combine to slash the associated carbon emissions by about 50% too.

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.”

You can find out more at National Highways Digital Roads site.

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