Road surfaces that generate electricity from passing traffic are just one part of an ambitious UK Government-backed project aiming to revolutionize local road networks with the introduction of smart infrastructure.
The ‘Smart Connected Community: Live Labs’ project, led by Buckinghamshire County Council, focuses on Aylesbury Garden Town and involves key investigators from Lancaster University’s Department of Engineering. The project, which has received £4.5m (US$5.7m) of innovation grant funding from the SMART Places Live Labs Program, is one of eight Live Labs projects. The £22.9m (US$29.4m) program, funded by the UK Department for Transport (DfT), is led by the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), which represents the leaders of local, county, unitary and metropolitan authorities from across the country.
Running until spring 2021, the ADEPT Smart Places program is supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins consultancy business, professional services company EY (Ernst & Young), construction and infrastructure services company Kier Group, telecommunications operator O2, highways maintenance company Ringway, and the WSP consultancy. Local authorities across the country are working on eight projects to introduce digital innovation across smart mobility, transport, highways maintenance, data, energy and communications. Live Labs is part of ADEPT’s Smart Places program to support the use of digital technology in place-based services, with the specific aim of introducing digital innovation outside the Strategic Roads Network (SRN) that is controlled by Highways England.
For the project in Aylesbury Garden Town, researchers from Lancaster University’s Department of Engineering will design, fabricate and test smart roads that generate electricity using piezoelectricity and hydromechanical dynamics from passing cars, trucks and buses. The electricity harvested by the ‘smart’ roads will be stored by roadside batteries to power street lights, road signs, air pollution monitors, as well as sensors that can detect when potholes are forming. In addition, the smart roads will generate data on vehicle speeds, the types of vehicle travelling along the roads, as well as other information on traffic flows. This data will help the local highways authority to better manage traffic.
The researchers will develop bespoke designs specific to the road conditions in Aylesbury. These designs will be tested using computer simulations to determine the optimum number and locations of kinetic energy harvesting sections before being constructed and installed in Buckinghamshire. After initial surveys, the original place chosen for the pilot was found to have a major gas main running under it, so the team are currently assessing new locations to find the optimum site for this trial. The Aylesbury initiative will contribute to the wider European SAFERUP (Sustainable, Accessible, Safe, Resilient and Smart Urban Pavements) project.
“This is a very exciting project where we will develop novel smart road surfaces that harvest energy to power sensors that can monitor both the structural integrity of road surfaces and traffic flows, providing valuable new data streams that will help to significantly improve the efficiency of highways management and maintenance,” Professor Mohamed Saafi from Lancaster University, who is leading the smart road surfaces research. “We see these next generation energy harvesting road surfaces as an important part of future smart cities.”