Cambridge-led research project to make the UK a global digital roads technology leader


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An exciting research project, led by Cambridge engineers, will explore how innovative technologies can help predict the location of potholes and other maintenance issues across the nation’s road network.

The business-led £8.6m research project, announced in support of the government’s UK Innovation Strategy, will explore how Digital Twins, smart materials, data science and robotic monitoring can work in unison to develop a connected physical and digital road infrastructure system.

The project is one of eight Prosperity Partnerships being supported with an investment of almost £60m by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), businesses and universities.

Dr Ioannis Brilakis, Laing O'Rourke Reader in Construction Engineering at the University of Cambridge, will lead the ‘Digital Roads’ project, which will seek to improve the cost, time, quality, safety, sustainability, and resilience performance of highways. Dr Brilakis will be joined by co-investigators Dr Fumiya Iida, Professor Abir Al-Tabbaa and Professor Mark Girolami. The Cambridge team will work in partnership with Highways England* and construction and engineering company Costain**.

The vision is to deliver roads made out of smart materials that can measure and monitor their own performance over time. The researchers will use graphene infused concrete coatings to enable self-sensing on both the road surface and the median barrier. This will then inform the road's Digital Twin through robotic monitoring.

These self-sensing and self-healing materials, along with a multitude of measured data, will inform the data-science enabled digital processes. The result will allow for better design, construction, maintenance, and operation predictions. This will make roads safer, more reliable and considerably less expensive, enabling highways agencies and councils to identify when repair work is needed.

Speaking about the Digital Roads project, Dr 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.”

* https://highwaysengland.co.uk/
** https://www.costain.com/

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