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Highways England to test cars with no drivers



Innovation Strategy includes work on autonomous vehicles, smart sensors, Wi-Fi and big data

Driverless cars will be tested on English motorways by the end of next year as part of a £150 million investment in new technology by Highways England.

The agency has included the plan in its newly published Innovation Strategy, which also includes trials of a “Wi-Fi” road and internet of things technology in efforts to make the roads safer and more reliable.

The document says that future proofing the road network for connected and autonomous vehicles would provide a breakthrough in improving safety and traffic flows, and producing environmental and economic benefits.

Highways England plans to test the relevant vehicles, investigate the risks, develop infrastructure standards and work on strategies for managing the network. It has begun work with car manufacturers on feasibility studies and is looking at the technology options and data requirements.

Jim O'Sullivan, chief executive of Highways England, said: “We will work with our partners in the supply chain, technology specialists and the automotive industry to trial new technologies that will help make journeys on our roads safer, more reliable and better informed.

“This will involve supporting trials of better connected and autonomous vehicles on our motorways by the end of next year, testing radar technology to better detect breakdowns, and trialling fuel price signs on the M5 between Bristol and Exeter.”

Smart sensors

Another significant element of the strategy is to look at the potential of smart sensors fixed on the agency's assets, such as road signs, to feed information to network managers. They could provide indications of condition of roads, bridges and tunnels, and help to develop better targeted maintenance programmes.

“The next generation of smart motorways will achieve smoother, more controlled flow,” the document says. “Building on the success of smart motorways, we will develop innovative concepts to apply to our 'expressways', such as use of advanced incident detection technology to improve journey performance on some of our busiest A roads.”

It also points to the potential of big data, coming from the agency's own and other sources, to better understand what drivers expect and analyse travel patterns. This could take in more information from social media.

Among the other plans highlighted by the Highways Agency are to: trial radar technology on motorways; test acoustic technology at the Hindhead Tunnel in Surrey to improve breakdown detection; improve the signalling at junctions on motorways; and test the wireless sending of information to specially adapted vehicles on roads in Kent. The latter could prompt them to take alternative routes if necessary.

Highways England is aiming to publish an implementation plan at the end of this month, then to work on the shorter term aspects of the programme up to 2020, following which the strategy will be refreshed.

It is also developing a collaboration agreement and joint programme of research with the Transport Systems Catapult, one of the innovation centres set up by InnovateUK.

Image: The A627 on Rochdale. Michael Ely, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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