Case studies

Examples of the ways we are stimulating innovation across the highways sector

Case studies

iDrain – Intelligent Flood Alert System

Designed to prevent flooding events on the strategic road network, iDrain allows National Highways to monitor drainage chamber water levels remotely allowing intelligence led asset management to prevent accidents and road closures.

Over the years, one of the greatest persistent problems faced by the national strategic road infrastructure is flooding. It is undeniable that the risk of road traffic accidents and closures increases significantly during periods of heavy rain. Excessive carriageway surface water significantly reduces skid resistance and in extreme case aquaplaning and total loss of control.

The mitigation of high risk flooding hotspots is a direct performance measure for National Highways and the installation of iDrain at these sites will directly support this. The closure of the strategic road network due to flooding is an increasing risk due to more severe weather events and ageing underground pipe networks that are difficult to monitor. This is detrimental for the economy and our network. The impact of ‘doing nothing’ means that we will be at risk of more road traffic accidents and road closures relating to flooding, this will have a direct impact on our strategic outcomes and performance measures.

iDrain diagram
If widely adopted, the solution will help reduce accidents and road closures, improve reliability on the network and ultimately boost the economy.

Connected and autonomous plant (CAP)

The introduction of connected and autonomous plant will positively disrupt all aspects of the construction industry. The possible benefits of this new technology are vast and indicate that CAP should be explored, developed and adopted across the sector.

As part of our digital roads vision, we are developing a roadmap for the implementation of automation in construction. The project will work collaboratively with academia and industry, including i3P, to identify how connectivity and automation can be used to resolve some of the key challenges faced by the construction sector, including safety, efficiency and integration of people and plant equipment.

We will work with industry experts with support from academia to assess and understand the state-of-the-art across all aspects of construction. A group of industry stakeholders will be established, to assist in the creation of a clear vision for the future of CAP in the UK, and to deliver a roadmap to address the social, technological, commercial and legislative challenges.

CAP diagram
Connectivity could improve construction site monitoring and logistics – helping to manage the movement of plant and minimizing the exposure of workers to hazards.

Vivacity – Tunnel Testbed Trial

To trial competition winning state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technology, for incident detection within Highways England’s Tunnel Testbed.

Our Tunnel Incident Detection Testbed was installed to enable manufacturers to trial and evaluate their products within a live environment, so that we can procure the best technology available for this purpose, and ensure manufacturer.

After winning a competition at the Intelligent Infrastructure Hub at Highways UK, Vivacity were offered an opportunity to install their equipment within the testbed, to demonstrate their capabilities. They were installed in October 2018, and evaluated until May 2019.

The results have shown Vivacity’s product to have performed extremely well in all performance criteria, and have exceeded all expectations with their results. It is the most successful incident detection equipment to have been trialled in the testbed to date.

Vehicles driving through tunnel
Having the most accurate and reliable detection equipment ensures the most rapid response to incidents possible, improving safety for our customers.

Automated Cone Laying Machine

Highways England has released its first footage and images of a pioneering new vehicle being developed to eliminate one of the biggest risks facing roadworkers.

Testing is now under way on automated cone laying vehicles being developed by National Highways and a group of industry experts.

​​​​​​​Putting out cones is still currently undertaken by two people on the rear of a vehicle working in tandem. The bulk of this work is undertaken at night and carried out in most weathers with the workers lifting up to 10 tonnes of equipment per shift.

Cones are needed to protect road users and road workers while essential improvements or maintenance is carried out on the busy routes. But with motorway traffic thundering past, it can be quite scary for workers.

We are developing two different types of automated cone laying machines and have tested one of them in a real-life environment throughout autumn 2020, in both the West Midlands and on the M4 in Berkshire.  We expect to see these machines used routinely on our network from summer 2021 onwards, helping to send road workers home safe and well.

Automated cone laying machine
By fully automating the cone laying process, we are removing any increased risk to road works and the customer. It will also show a reduction in slips, trips and falls reported in Airsweb.

Boxted Bridge Luminescent Lighting

Designed to help our customers feel safe in pedestrian and cyclist areas–Luminescent disks allow our customers to see in dark areas of our network at night, it also promotes a cost effective way of lighting.

There is no lighting on the approach to the Boxted bridge. This raises the likelihood of cyclists crossing the bridge via the cycle path colliding with the overhanging section of the parapet.

A proposal to provide a street lighting-based solution at a cost of £250k has not been progressed due to insufficient justification.

Following a desktop study, a low-cost alternative solution of installing electro-luminescent markings has been identified. The solution will indicate the presence of the hazard and guide cyclists away from the overhang, and provide more visibility for its users.

The expected benefits include:

  • a low capital and low operating cost solution at this location which can then be used to inform other cycling designs at other locations
  • a zero-carbon footprint, zero ecological impact, zero light pollution compared with the traditional lighting proposal

Should the solution perform well, then there is opportunity to use it for other applications to improve safety, particularly maintenance access and to prevent slips trips and falls for alighted pedestrians and road workers when on foot.

This project was delivered through the Cycling, Safety and Integration Fund as part of the Roads Investment Strategy.

Boxted bridge at night
If widely adopted Luminescent Lighting could allow significant efficiencies to be made – £130,000 savings have been made to date.

Hyperspectral Remote Sensing

Collaborative development into application of remote sensing technologies – Trail hyperspectral (Plus LiDAR and photography) remote sensors on an aerial survey to inventory and potentially monitor the condition/change of various rail and road network assets over time.

Background: Advances in remote sensing technologies provide opportunities to improve how assets such as the road and rail networks can be managed. National Highways and Network Rail are working together to investigate what advantages there are for using hyperspectral imaging in combination with LiDAR and aerial imagery on the road and rail networks.

Purpose: To better understand network assets and their
Potential risks; more effective planning of maintenance and renewals; improved safety on the networks through reduction of physical inspection time; and, improved network efficiency through reducing need for closures and on-site inspections.

Hyperspectral image

Transforming road markings

This project involved an industry leading trial to evaluate various road marking products, systems and processes for removal of permanent and temporary road markings.

In early 2019 we launched a global competition to identify the best performing road markings and the most effective yet least destructive road marking removal systems.  Of the 34 road markings entered, laboratory testing to 2 million wheel -hits (used as a proxy for two years on road usage) allowed us to identify the top performers for skid resistance and performance in the dry and wet.

The best seven products were then applied to the M5 northbound between junctions 20 and 18 for the two years on-road testing, and to allow a correlation with the laboratory results.  This is important as the testing process used allows for testing in two weeks which would then support more rapid innovation and product development. 

Full results are awaited but evidence up to 18 months clearly shows that performance can be significantly increased, bringing safety and customer benefits.   

We also tested five removal systems on each of the markings with very promising results.

The final performance results will be taken in April 2021 when we can conclude the competition with a detailed report.

road markings
Identifying road markings and removal systems that improve safety, customer experience and reduced maintenance costs

A14 – Predicting health and safety incidents

Using Artificial Intelligence to forecast the increased risk of harm for a given day of activity onsite to inform the workforce and keep them safe.

The A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon is delivering much than a road. Its award winning approach to data collection and reporting facilitated a pilot project with Microsoft Gold Partner – Altius. The team pulled together a number of data sources such as Incidents, Observations, Schedule, Job Role, Access Control records and Weather data to build a machine learning model. An extensive feature exploration exercise was carried out by Data Scientists, over 140 were used to build a machine learning model which was trained using 420 days of operational data. The chosen risk metric was binary, either an increased risk day or not. Based on the project frequency rate of 1 in every 4 days being ‘Increased Risk’, the model successfully predicted the correct outcome 65% of the time. This represents 160% improvement over a random guess (25%) which is an excellent outcome for the pilot. The highest ranking influential feature was working hours, and correlation was proven between positive observation sentiment and reduced harm.

predicting incidents
Policy, process and behavioural management have brought Health & Safety culture a long way; this successful pilot proves AI techniques could be the next step in reducing harm

Drones for surveys

Key Outputs from the works include:

  • understand the basis on which Drones can be deployed through the work of the operational safety team in conjunction with the National Highways drones policy team to establish the operating constraints
  • finalise the specifications for drone data capture and processing
  • undertake offsite trials at Smart Motorways Development Centre located in the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh with industry specialists to test the capability of existing drone technology
  • test the processed data into Rapid Engineering Model (REM) and test the timeline from initial data request to receipt of processed drone captured data
  • assess the capability to undertake live data processing in the drone for real time delivery to REM
  • provide a standard methodology for drone-based data capture for both pavement and soft estate in-line with updated standard e.g. rewritten IAN99.

Future Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB)

The Future DMRB has delivered the review of nearly 400 technical documents (DMRB standards and interim advice notes).

This very challenging project is unprecedented in the field of technical document development and publishing, if not in size then certainly in its use of new procedures to meet the digital future. The total reformatting of DMRB documents to harmonise (merge) documents that are interrelated in content, withdraw (remove from circulation) and/or replace (produce a new document) documents that have become obsolete, and withdraw (remove from circulation) duplicate documents to deliver a clearer, digital requirement.

A Technical Standards Enterprise System (TSES) was developed to future proof document review, introducing language and structure that enables requirements to be expressed clearly, enforcing a discipline that can be adopted for the authoring of all technical documentation.

The coming decades will see new technologies, digital design and modular construction techniques, revolutionise how people use and construct our roads. Digitised standards are an essential component in our desire to deliver a digital highways landscape (known as ‘digital roads’) which will provide a digitised connected system interlinking design, construction and operational phases to support our emerging digital roads vision.

Digital technologies will transform how we engage with the people and vehicles that use our roads, as well as how we design, build, maintain and operate our roads

Motorways as Energetic Crops

Motorways as Energetic Crops (MEC) will exploit the potential of the highway as a source of kinetic (piezoelectric) energy to reduce network energy costs and carbon emissions.

This project is developing a sustainable energy source using piezoelectric (PE) transducers to capture the kinetic energy of traffic passing across the road surface. This will provide local energy sources to power National Highways infrastructure.

The technology is currently undergoing laboratory trials of PE transducers and simulation modelling to enable assessment of highway-scale electricity generation.

In addition this technology has digital road capabilities providing the potential for self-powered sensors in the road surface which can facilitate communication between infrastructure and passing vehicles

Successful development and integration into the network would provide reduced reliance on electricity distribution and reduced carbon emissions.

Next generation collision investigation equipment

This project undertakes trials and testing of Next Generation Collision Investigation (CI) Equipment, with the capability of reducing protracted Investigation times by up to 50%.

This project has undertaken trials and testing of next generation collision (CI) equipment, with the capability of reducing protracted investigation times by up to 50%.

We have provided funding to West Mercia and Warwickshire Police to upgrade their CI equipment (previously provided by Highways Agency approximately 11 years ago).

After trialling the equipment with CI officers, it was concluded this equipment could lead to reduction of investigation times on the Strategic Road Network, by up to 50%, due to the efficiency of the GPS scanner. The equipment can work at very obtuse angles, allowing it to measure marks underneath vehicles, thus negating the need for recovery, before this can be done. It can safely measure and record evidence, such as white lines. These technological advances could lead to further time savings, ensuring carriageways are open quicker, reducing the risk of secondary collisions and enhancing the experience of our customers. Both Forces have provided reports to confirm this new equipment has already achieved reduced closure times whilst still capturing the detailed evidence needed.

Collision investigation is currently under review for national accreditation. This project will support the review and provide data regarding accreditation/standard of the equipment.

Power generation from structures

The integration of renewable energy technology into National Highways roadside infrastructure to reduce energy costs and contribute to carbon reduction targets.

The outcome of the overall project is to deploy renewable energy source technologies (e.g. wind, solar) on structures across the strategic road network to power the technology with no or reduced reliance on Distribution Network Operator supplies. This has the benefits of greater self-sufficiency of energy supplies for Highways England through localised generation, reduced electricity costs and reduced carbon emissions by using energy from renewable sources.

The project will demonstrate the practical application of these technologies by forming a representative ‘mini grid’. This is being conducted at the Smart Motorway Development Centre, an off-road, controlled, test environment. These Develop and Demonstrate trials will monitor real time energy production and performance of MS4 gantry mounted solar panels, a solar acoustic barrier and ground mounted solar arrays.

power generation
Widespread network adoption will reduce reliance on distributed electricity and contribute to carbon emission reductions.

Signalling for roadworks

Signalling for Roadworks utilises the existing Variable Signs and Signals (VSS) infrastructure on Smart Motorways (SM) to improve the safety of roadworkers engaged in installation or removal of Temporary Traffic Management (TTM) by removing the need to place certain fixed plate signing in advance of the roadworks.

It can also provide large financial benefits to All Lane Running (ALR) Schemes by removing/reducing the numbers of Remotely Operated Temporary Traffic Management Signs (ROTTMS).

Setting out short term temporary traffic management (TTM) in a live carriageway exposes road workers to risk. A major source of this risk is placing and removing temporary signing warning of the lane closure ahead. Signalling for Roadworks (SfR) eliminates this risk by using the existing VSS to communicate advance warning of lane closures for relaxation road works on smart motorways. This improves safety for our road workers as they do not have to install, maintain or remove the advance warning signs.

SfR provides the following benefits:

  • reduction of exposure to risk for roadworkers
  • increase in potential Safe Taper Locations
  • MIDAS queue protection maintained
  • process efficiencies for both TM operatives and ROC
  • driver behaviour and speed compliance is consistent
  • HADECS speed enforcement possible
  • increased signing consistency, less risk of operator error
  • integrated roadworks and incident signalling, protect works area, avoids operator error and inconsistency
  • overhead VS more conspicuous, less likely to be obscured by HGVs

SfR is currently operational in the EROC region, on SM sections of both the M1 and M25. Further, its propose use has enabled over £15m of capital savings, from removal of ROTTMS from the designs, to be identified on ALR projects on both the M4 and M1 which will be operated from the EROC. Any further development of SfR and its National Rollout to other regions will be delivered as part of the CHARM programme

Positive implications statement on our business – must link to at least one of the three imperatives of safety, customer, delivery.

Trimble SiteVision – augmenting reality

Drawings have been used for years to explain where the utilities and structures are in the real world. This requires good drawing comprehensive and the ability to visualise the drawn data in the real world.

The mixed reality solution offered by Trimble’s SiteVision helps to educate the workforce in the presence of utilities and the opportunity to remove engineering issues before operations happen.

Using the SiteVision device in different construction operations highlighted benefits from day one. Linear site clearance and planning of works for the erection of fences inside the site boundary has reduced engineering visits and raised queries/concerns earlier.

SiteVision requires good geospatial data from the Authoring parties (Surveys or BIM models/Drawings) which is stored in the cloud and then can be used on the SiteVision device out in the field. Users in the field can then inform the authoring parties of interest by reporting issues raised on site back via the cloud seamlessly.

During the course of the recent pandemic the project team have successfully trialled the use of Trimble SiteVision over Microsoft Teams as a catalyst for understanding for construction issues experienced by the workforce and the offsite engineering team.

If used on construction sites this tool will enable better explanation and understanding engineering drawings, allowing for a more efficient an aware workforce.