Connecting new technologies with clients proves an impetus for investment and innovation
Highways UK will be opening entries for the Costain-sponsored 2018 Intelligent Infrastructure Hub (Costain IIH) Challenge next month. Here Daniel Ruiz, chief executive of Meridian Mobility Technology, the Government's connected and autonomous vehicle acceleration programme, and chair of the Costain IIH steering committee, outlines the aims of the Challenge and looks at the progress of smart road stud developer Valerann since being named overall winner in 2017
Things are moving on very quickly for smart road system developer Valerann since the company's proprietary technology was named overall winner of the 2017 Costain IIH Challenge, held at Highways UK last November.
The Challenge is the core component of the Costain-sponsored Intelligent Infrastructure Hub, set up by Highways UK to unlock and accelerate the uptake of innovative ideas that use intelligent infrastructure and associated transport technologies to solve the problems facing UK transport sector.
Since winning the award at last year's Highways UK event, the joint Israeli-British company has secured many more investors for developing its technology and, according to co-founder and chief branding officer Michael Vardi, is now better able to engage with additional stakeholders in a bid to determine and deliver what they want: "Winning the IIH Challenge award meant a lot to us, mainly in giving us access to major industry players and allowing us to have conversations about what the product could do for them," says Vardi.
"I'm packing now to go to Israel to see our first live deployment of our technology and will have over a week's-worth of data for the Ayalon Highway [on the eastern border of central Tel Aviv], the country's busiest motorway". Vardi will be looking at what can be done with this data in a collaboration between Valerann and the private road operator.
And the future looks busy for Valerann here in the UK too, he says: "We're hoping to showcase to Highways England a higher granularity of data in the UK and how it can help make roads safer and highways more efficient, as well as monitoring and supporting autonomous vehicles."
Valerann's technology uses sensor-rich intelligent road studs to collect information about traffic flow, safety risks and road surface conditions, from every point in a road. This information is then transmitted wirelessly to control centres and visually to drivers. In addition, by using cloud-based servers, Valerann can share traffic data with authorities and other road operators, and with navigation apps.
It was clearly a big hit with the 2017 IIH Challenge judges, appealing particularly to regional category judge James Golding-Graham, principal innovation and research officer at Oxfordshire County Council, for being "truly innovative".
"We've seen solar powered illuminated studs before but I've never come across anything with the capability of the Valerann system," he says. "Along with enriching the data-gathering capability of the highway, the key innovation for me is the system's ability to integrate connectivity and connect CAV and standard vehicles; It can bring operational benefits now - and should provide a degree of future profiling for highways."
Golding-Graham adds that he would like to see the technology deployed across regional transport body England's Economic Heartland, in the not-too-distant future: "The engineering is clever in that once installed the 'brain' of the unit can be swapped out should technologies/requirements change quickly. The equipment is also quick to install and in comparison to other smart enabling technologies, low cost."
Fellow judge Martin Tugwell, programme director for England's Economic Heartland, says he was struck by how Valerann offers a solution that will enable highways to be digitally connected: "The ability to collect information and convey messages to users in the way that Valerann does creates opportunities to realise benefits for the economy, the environment and users."
The EEH highway network is vital to supporting economic activity and delivery of planned growth, he adds, "making the most efficient use of our highway asset is therefore vital in our quest to improve economic productivity whilst improving information to drivers is key to helping improving the user experience".
Paul Doney, director of innovation and continuous improvement at Highways England (HE) is also exploring the potential of Valerann's smart road system. Highways England staff recently visited the Ayalon Highway project to see the smart studs in use. "It's a long journey to landing technology," says Doney, "but we're on it and moving it forward which is really exciting."
Commenting on the overall IIH experience Doney says Highways England was impressed by the range of different entries: "It was a new thing for us...we were taken by the buzz around the process."
What is particularly exciting for Highways England, he adds, is what is happening now, post event: "We're not just working with Valerann as the winners, we are now working with all the finalists... it's given us an impetus to do more, we're investing in them, and we're really pleased to be doing so. The more we can do to encourage the uptake of innovation the better and the IIH is a great platform for doing that, we're definitely fully behind it."
As chair of the IIH steering group it is hugely gratifying to see the power of connecting new technologies with clients and how that can act as an impetus for investment and innovation. Valerann's experience illustrates clearly the benefits of participating in the Highways UK Intelligent Infrastructure Hub challenge; look out for details of this year's challenge event, which will be released in June.
Dr Daniel Ruiz is chief executive of Meridian Mobility Technology