Cambridge project develops digital roads

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Researchers from the University of Cambridge aim to make the UK a global leader in digital roads technology as part of a new project funded by the UK government’s Innovation Strategy.

The project, one of eight Prosperity Partnerships, will study how smart materials, digital twins, robotic monitoring, and data science can work together to develop a connected physical and digital road infrastructure system.

Titled Digital Roads, the project aims to improve the cost, time, quality, safety, sustainability, and resilience performance of expressways.

According to the team, the goal 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, informing the road’s digital twin through robotic monitoring.

These self-sensing and self-healing materials, along with a wide range of measured data, will inform the data-science enabled digital processes, resulting in making better design, construction, maintenance, and operation predictions.

Researchers hope this will make roads considerably less expensive, more reliable, and safer, allowing highways agencies and councils to identify when repair work is needed.

Project led, Ioannis Brilakis, Laing O’Rourke Reader in Construction Engineering at the University of Cambridge, said: “Digital Roads is the beacon of our broader £15 million Digital Roads of the Future initiative, that also includes the £5.9 million EU MSCA Cofund Futureroads Fellowships Programme and other programmes, aimed at jump-starting the digital transformation of our roads sector.

“Combined, these programmes will build a critical mass of over 50 researchers at Cambridge over the next five years, working collaboratively with Highways England, Costain and many other industry partners to rethink roads delivery and management, deliver impact directly to all partners involved, and set the foundations for a long-term Institute on the Future of Roads.”

The business-led £8.6m research project is being supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

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