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Live Labs Blog: Getting ready for winter

30 September 2020

As the nights start to draw in and temperatures drop, we take a look at how some of our Live Lab innovations can support highways in the winter months…

One of the most exciting initiatives is Central Bedfordshire’s Thermal Energy Live Lab. The Council is using the Thorn Turn Highways Depot as a test site for a system called Power Road. 

Developed by Eurovia, geo-thermal probes will be inserted into the site’s car park. These will generate energy that can be stored and released when necessary to de-ice the car park surface and heat the depot building in the winter. The trial will help the Council to understand if and how the technology could be applied when new buildings are developed for places like leisure centres and schools.

Sensor trials are also playing a significant part in developing winter maintenance programmes. As we heard in last month’s blog, a big deliverable of Kent’s Local Highways Asset Management Technology Incubator Live Lab is an operational platform. It will be used to pull together information from a variety of sources, including data from road surface temperature sensors. In icy conditions, this will be invaluable for identifying which roads need to be gritted and when.

Buckinghamshire is also trialling sensors to help make winter maintenance more proactive. As with Kent, data from ground temperature sensors will be used to identify the roads that actually need gritting, rather than using the typical blanket approach that is currently in place. This means that not only will roads be gritted at the right time to optimise safety for road users, but it will also be a far more efficient use of resources.

Meanwhile, Suffolk is testing different types of road surface temperature sensors such as infra-red and in-ground to assess their benefits and accuracy. With sensors supplied by companies ranging from multi-nationals to a small local start-up, they have been installed at both the test site at BT’s Adastral Park, and strategically across the county. Installation locations include those near existing weather stations to provide baseline data and accuracy. They are then plotted at regular intervals following salting routes in both rural and urban environments. 

The data feeds into a bespoke dashboard where it will be analysed by project partner, the University of Suffolk, throughout the winter period. This will highlight any savings and operational benefits, which in turn will feed into the decision-making process. 

In addition, locations are currently being agreed to install sensors in grit bins to measure salt levels. This will help to identify any operational efficiencies, including less vehicle movements.

Moving away from sensors, the Network Resilience Live Lab in the West Midlands will be using the winter months for informal testing across various parts of the video analytics system. Data will be collected from ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) and CCTV cameras to assess the effectiveness of units designed to meet the environmental requirements of a British winter. 

These months will also enable the performance of the Birmingham City University open source algorithm to be tested when connected to a camera feed in low light and adverse weather conditions. The system identifies vehicle class – car, van, bus, HGV etc – giving an overview of vehicle mix, as well as tracking travel patterns. It will enable routes to be developed that may differ from those defined by the region’s Key Route Network.

These tests and trials are just a snapshot of the many innovations that are going on across the Live Labs family. What has been key in these developments is the shared learning between the projects as they get ready for winter and beyond.