Highways England has commissioned research company TRL to carry out an innovation project exploring the use of connected and autonomous plant (CAP) on construction and maintenance schemes.
Under the technical leadership of Highways England, TRL will ‘bring together stakeholders from industry and academia to support the delivery of a roadmap, through a focused and collaborative development programme,' based on analysis of trials.
Highways England recently launched its first trial of an autonomous dump truck on its flagship A14 scheme.
Highways England’s innovation supply chain manager for safety, engineering and standards, Muneer Akhtar, said: ‘Highways England’s first priority is safety – for those using our roads, and for those who work there. We see the potential for great benefits of greater automation of vehicles to deliver improved safety and increased mobility.
‘Connected and autonomous construction plant has huge potential to reduce the risk for construction workers and improve productivity. As a leading construction client, Highways England is committed to working across industry to advance this emerging technology as part of our £150m innovation designated fund.’
TRL chief technologist Alex Wright said the rate of CAP development has been slow and as a result adoption of such innovations is missing from operational standards, ‘leaving the industry unclear about the opportunities available’.
He said: ‘Previous research has demonstrated a link between CAP and reduced risk to worker safety during excavation practices. Findings suggest that significant social and financial benefits would be delivered through the introduction of automated methods of detecting hazards and alerting operators of excavation systems, to avoid asset strikes.
‘This has provided a baseline of what CAP can achieve but its potential is much greater. CAP could also be introduced to benefit wider construction activities. Location-based technologies could improve monitoring and sensing of workers across construction sites, to reduce general exposure to hazards from site vehicles and vehicles driven by the public, for example.
‘These technologies could also enhance the construction process; through improved logistics for plant, control of plant vehicles to constrain movement, and to benefit the construction of road pavements via the delivery of smoother and better compacted surfaces.’
A research team led by TRL will firstly identify the key technological and strategic milestones needed to achieve Highways England’s Digital Roads agenda.
The project will explore the worker safety and welfare benefits, as well as benefits related to construction quality, productivity and costs that arise through automating activities that currently require human intervention.
TRL will then lead a field demonstration of CAP technology to test these benefits in reality.
A spokesperson for TRL declined to state the value of the contract.