Wintersense - category winner 2017
Birmingham University's innovation measures road surface temperature using infrared themometry
Making sense of winter road conditions
A road surface temperature sensor providing real-time data on road conditions is set for imminant adoption on the UK's road and motorway network, thanks in large part to the development having received an award at the Highways UK 2017 Intelligent Infrastructure Challenge (IIC), sponsored by Costain.
Developed at the University of Birmingham by a team led by Lee Chapman, professor of climate resilience, the non-invasive and self-contained road surface Wintersense temperature sensor, which remotely senses road surface temperature using infrared themometry, triumphed in the competition's national award category.
"On a personal level, the award was a nice surprise," says Chapman. "But it was also the first industrial recognition of what we're trying to achieve".
The sensors are Internet of Things enabled and use a new generation of low-power communications to provide a real-time measurement of road surface temperature, that will be used to direct gritting lorries to priority areas.
Business for the sensor has gone from strength to strength since the award was announced: "We're actively marketing the sensors now and they're already being used by a number of local authorities," says Chapman. "The IIH award has really improved our relationship with Highways England, and we're developing the sensors for use on their network next winter," he adds.
"We liked this idea because it showed initiative and was a great example of how a product can quickly be developed from scratch to meet an operational need," says IIC award judge Annette Pass, head of innovation at Highways England.
"Our traffic officers have told me how important it is for Highways England, as a network operator, to have precise, real time information on network conditions in the cold weather," she adds, "and in time, the data patterns could help us predict more precisely which sections to treat first. This could be a real winner for local authorities too, on some of their key routes."
Throughout the winter months, highways maintenance companies dispatch fleets of gritting lorries to prevent or mitigate the impact of black ice formation on motorways and A roads. In harsh winters, the routing of gritting lorries has to be prioritised to ensure optimal road safety.
"The key issue in this prioritisation is having good spatial resolution on observation of road surface conditions," Chapman explains. "Our sensors are an order of magnitude cheaper than existing solutions, and light enough to be mounted on any lamp post, gantry or road sign, which means a dense network of sensors can be rapidly deployed along a road network to provide a highly granular picture of road surface conditions."
The University of Birmingham is an institution that has a long history of research into winter road sensing and forecasting. Its Wintersense sensor forms part of a portfolio of products "designed to empower transport managers in the road maintenance and rail industries".