As part of a £8.6 million research project, announced in support of the government’s UK Innovation Strategy, University of Cambridge engineers will explore how Digital Twins, smart materials, data science and robotic monitoring can work together to develop a connected physical and digital road infrastructure system.
This project is one of eight Prosperity Partnerships being supported with an investment of almost £60 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), businesses and universities.
Dr. Ioannis Brilakis from the University of Cambridge will lead the project titled Digital Roads, which aims to improve the cost, time, quality, safety, sustainability, and resilience performance of expressways. The Cambridge engineers 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, 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. This will make roads considerably less expensive, more reliable, and safer, allowing highways agencies and councils to identify when repair work is needed.
By 2030, the Digital Roads team aims to develop outcomes to a commercial stage and to follow the same development journey for other road assets such as bridges and tunnels, followed by the entire strategic road network by 2040. This will ensure that roads become safer, serviceable at a lower cost, and maintained more efficiently and sustainably, reducing the emissions generated by roadworks, and preventing unnecessary delays to motorists.
EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Dame Lynn Gladden said: “Artificial intelligence, digital chemistry and Digital Twins are some of the new and transformative technologies that will help to drive the Net Zero revolution, address major societal challenges, and deliver prosperity to the UK.. By bringing together UK businesses and universities, these new Prosperity Partnerships will generate the knowledge and innovations that will enable these cutting-edge technologies to realize their transformative potential across a diverse range of sectors.”