23 January 2020
Our cars, vans, trucks, buses and coaches are all becoming ever-more intelligent and connected and, as we know, the development of driverless technology is well underway.
But it’s not just inside our vehicles where technology is helping to improve safety, comfort and efficiency.
Even our infrastructure is benefiting from advances in technology and greater automation.
Just this month. Highways England added the latest ‘robot’ to its fleet – this time a specially-designed, cone-laying vehicle, that can prevent workers having to lift an average 10 tonnes of equipment per shift.
Two automated cone laying vehicles are being developed, with testing due to get under way next month at a centre in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. If these tests are successful, the machines could start to appear across the country by the end of 2020.
Cones are needed to protect road users and road workers while essential improvements or maintenance is carried out on the busy routes.
But dramatic footage released by Highways England shows how terrifying it can be for the workers who traditionally put the cones out, working in tandem from the back of a vehicle as motorway traffic thunders past just yards away.
The new robot removes the need for cones to be manually placed. This will improve safety and free up two workers to carry out other tasks.
And if testing meets Highways England criteria, namely that the machines offer a safer method for highways workers, are safe for all road users and pose no further risk to traffic, they could soon enter service nationwide.
It’s all part of Highways England’s drive to make it work maintaining the nation’s road network safer, faster and more efficient.
First came the introduction of self-driving dump trucks as part of a trial on Britain’s biggest road upgrade, the £1.5 billion A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement.
The dump trucks, which move huge amounts of earth, have the potential to work around the clock, so could help reduce the length of time roadworks are on the ground.
And by being autonomous they reduce the risk of road workers being involved in incidents on site.
This was followed by the introduction a quirky machine that uses precise positioning technology to mark out where white lines need to be painted on new or resurfaced roads.
It has already saved hundreds of hours of working time on various Highways England projects across the country, including the A14.
It also recently pre-marked eight miles of the M6 in Staffordshire in four hours. This work would usually take two engineers over a week to complete.
Savings elsewhere include saving 27 hours of working time marking three miles of hard shoulder on the M4 in Berkshire, 77 hours covering five miles of the M6 in Warwickshire, and six hours working on two miles of the M1 in Leicestershire, with further work done on the M60 smart motorway at Manchester.
Besides helping drivers, it also has safety benefits for roadworkers and enables them to focus on completing other essential work on each project.
Julian Lamb, construction director on the A14, where the all the robots have been used, said, “We’re always looking at innovative new ways of working, which can help road users, and make our projects more efficient while supporting improved engineering.
“With safety our top priority, the time savings the robots can provide, coupled with removing our operatives from a potentially hazardous situation, make it a great solution.”
He added, “These technologies are also supporting new jobs, with the engineers of tomorrow needing to learn new skills such as programming this autonomous equipment.”