National Highways announces winners of graffiti removal competition

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Wall-climbing robots, acoustic sensors and laser technology are among the pioneering ideas that could help remove the graffiti from alongside National Highways [formally Highways England]roads in the future.

National Highways is on a mission to tackle graffiti by finding new products to remove it. The organization is also looking into potential solutions that could prevent vandalism appearing in the first place.

A competition was launched to harvest innovative solutions to the problem that continues to plague the road network. Graffiti on bridges and next to roads can be distracting for drivers and the clean-up often requires lane or road closures, disrupting traffic. And it is expensive. It can cost up to £10,000 (US$14,000) to remove one instance of graffiti.

National Highways has launched the competition with partners Kier and Connected Places Catapult to identify new solutions for dealing with graffiti. More than a dozen companies submitted their concepts and products and the five most promising entries have now been announced. These winning ideas will each get up to £30,000 (US$41,000) to spend taking their products forward.

Innovation Factory audio sensors detect the application of graffiti

“We are very excited about taking forward these fascinating, innovative solutions that could help us tackle the relentless problem of graffiti, which takes up time and money that would be better spent elsewhere on our network,” says National Highways head of innovation, Annette Pass. “The standard of entries was very high and difficult decisions had to be made to whittle them down to a final five. But we are confident that as we develop these ideas further, we will be able to identify modern solutions to this age-old problem.”

Competition winners

Innovation Factory – Audio sensors will detect the application of graffiti in order to alert authorities and trigger audio and visual deterrents.

Sensing Feeling ­– AI software will analyze behavior to detect vandals at graffiti hotspots. Deterrents such as alarms and lights can then be activated.

HausBots – Wall-climbing robotics will be used to apply graffiti preventative paints, reducing the risk of hazards, such as working at heights, for the workforce.

Powerlase – This innovation will use lasers to remove graffiti from surfaces while preventing additional damage to the finish of surface coatings and films.

Nano Eco Group – A 3D chemical coating to prevent the adhesion of graffiti to a variety of surfaces and films.

The HausBots wall-climbing robot can apply graffiti-preventative paints

 

Each of the winners will use the money to develop their idea and produce a feasibility study for National Highways, which will then decide the most promising products to take forward for use on the road network.

“Tackling graffiti is an everyday labor-intensive occurrence for our maintenance teams and we are always on the lookout for innovative solutions to speed up identification and reduce time on site removing graffiti,” says Tom Tideswell, head of innovation at Kier. “The variety of applications chosen to be taken forward can potentially increase removal productivity, reduce exposure to our workforce and reduce the need for traffic management, which will improve journey reliability times for road users. I am looking forward to seeing how these potential solutions progress and enhance the variety of methods of prevention and removal of graffiti.”

“Connected Places Catapult are here to help UK companies with great new innovations and get them into the market,” says Paul Bate, Connected Places Catapult technical director. “We’ve been really pleased at the quality of the applications and range of different technologies that these companies have brought to this competition. We’re looking forward to seeing the outcome of all the feasibility studies and seeing which ones have the most promise for future use on National Highways’ network.”

Trials that took place at Spaghetti Junction included a system that blasts-off the graffiti with recycled glass pellets

Current trials

The competition follows a recent trial of new solutions that took place over two days at an off-road site at Gravelly Hill Interchange – more commonly known as Spaghetti Junction – in Birmingham.

Three products or methods were tested to help identify those that most successfully remove graffiti quickly and safely while remaining eco-friendly. And there were another three trialled that go beyond coatings traditionally used to prevent graffiti appearing.

The aim of the trials was to evaluate the performance of newly identified products and increase the range of solutions available for use on the road network.

The cost of both initiatives has been met through the Innovation and Modernisation Designated Fund. This is a ring-fenced National Highways fund dedicated to the exploration and adoption of modern and innovative working practices.

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Lauren is acting associate editor for Traffic Technology International and freelance journalist. Over the past 15 years, she has worked on a wide variety of B2B publications and websites, including a stint as deputy editor of Traffic Technology International from 2014-2016. She has a degree in English from the University of Exeter. Lauren is mum two busy little girls. She is always in demand!