Lancashire-based InTouch is harnessing the power of the Internet of Things to transform maintenance of our roads.
Managing director John Walden was convinced that sharing data via the internet and cloud-based services could make highway maintenance more efficient and also reduce costs.
His first step was to seek out a more innovative way of sharing and using data in a sector characterised by monolithic IT systems that work for individual service providers but fail to talk to each other.
£50,000 in grant funding from Innovate UK enabled InTouch and Lancaster University to carry out a feasibility study. This laid the foundation for the Smart Streets project – an open data hub for road maintenance that could significantly reduce costs and create new revenue opportunities. It received grant funding of £635,000 from Innovate UK.
The Smart Streets consortium, led by InTouch, includes academics from the universities of Lancaster and Birmingham along with some of the UK’s biggest highway services contractors - Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Mott MacDonald and Amey. The UK highway maintenance industry is worth £3.9 billion.
The hub stores a wide variety of facts and figures – from the state of roads through to maintenance schedules and meteorological data. It allows industry partners to share and exploit that information using HyperCat to improve the efficiency of highway services.
The amount of data involved is immense - Redcar & Cleveland Council covers approximately 90 square miles alone and there are more than 30,000 road gullies.
InTouch faced technical challenges in capturing data affordably and in establishing appropriate levels of sampling. The company also had to negotiate complex legal and business issues arising from the sheer range of organisations with responsibility for highway maintenance.
Now, however, the Smart Streets hub can build up an accurate picture of gullies that get blocked regularly and need frequent cleaning and those that are typically clear and running freely when inspected. It means that data can be generated automatically and used to update a virtual representation of highways.
For example, gritting trucks are typically fitted with GPS trackers that also monitor the amount of salt the gritter is placing on the road. Live data from these devices can be used to work out the state of the highway itself. He added:
At the end of the project 11 companies attended our ‘show and tell’ day for a demonstration of different solutions from the hub. It was like a ‘mini-me’ of what we want to happen in the future.
InTouch has also secured Innovate UK grant funding of £75,000 for a feasibility study into whether mobile computing can be used to reduce congestion on the M25 and also maintain the transport infrastructure more effectively and efficiently while keeping road users informed. John said:
The backing we’ve received from Innovate UK, not just the funding but mentoring and helping us to make new business connections, has been invaluable. It has given us significant credibility and opened the door for us to enter new markets and reach customer groups that might not otherwise have been possible.