Autonomous plant ‘to be industry standard by 2035’

Chris Ames

Highways England has issued a rallying call to the sector as it spearheaded the launch of a 15-year plan to accelerate the use of technology in infrastructure.

The government-owned company said a digital revolution in the construction industry could dramatically increase productivity and save billions of pounds, while radically reducing disruption and slashing the number of fatal incidents on building sites.

With connected and autonomous plant (CAP) already used across UK construction, Highways England, with partners TRL and the Infrastructure Industry Innovation Partnership (i3P), has set out a roadmap – a vision where the use of CAP techniques will become standard industry practice by 2035.

It said it has been estimated that productivity improvements achieved via CAP could exceed £400bn by 2040.

Chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: ‘Connected and autonomous plant will make work safer and quicker. The Roadmap lays out the benefits and addresses the barriers to making this a reality. We are confident the Roadmap will help our supply chain to rapidly make this the norm on our worksites.’

The Roadmap, which was developed through collaboration with more than 100 industry stakeholders, predicts that adoption of CAP technology across the construction sector could:

  • reduce fatalities in the construction sector by 37%
  • improve productivity by up to £400bn by 2040
  • see annual savings of £53bn across new construction work
  • assist with 47% of construction activities currently performed
  • see road construction deliver benefits of more than £3bn between now and 2035

Overall, the Roadmap brings together nine pathways that Highways England said have been identified to deliver success by 2035. This includes elements from legislation, regulation and policy as well as factors facilitating finance and investment and an understanding of the skills gaps.

Highways England is already trialling CAP plant. Automated dump trucks (pictured) were trialled on the recently-opened A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme.

The trucks were programmed remotely to follow a pre-determined route and have the capability to detect and avoid obstacles and other vehicles.

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