Scottish tech project aims to consign rocky rural roads to history

3rd August 2022

A consortium of research partners in Scotland could help solve the perennial problems facing the UK’s transport infrastructure, with the development of an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor network that provides real-time monitoring of rural road conditions.

DigiFlec, a start-up based in Dunfermline, is working with CENSIS - Scotland’s innovation centre for sensors, imaging systems, and IoT technologies - and Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) as part of the Scottish Government’s CivTech 6 Accelerator Programme to develop a digital transport network management interface.

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The initiative combines the digital mapping of the road network alongside sensors deployed to capture live data about the condition of the FLS road network. The data includes readings on temperature, moisture in the road and potential culvert blockages.

FLS has a 10,000 kilometre road network covering some of the most remote areas in Scotland, largely made up of unsealed roads that become weaker when wet and can be easily damaged by flooding. Having accurate real-time information about conditions will allow better informed decisions about road use at particular times.

IoT sensors have so far been deployed in test locations on roads in Blairadam and Auchineden to gather and transmit information about the road.

The data will be integrated into an interface that displays the data in real time, as well as any long-term changes to the road’s condition. This should enable better maintenance scheduling and provide greater knowledge of the factors that impact a road’s deterioration, allowing decisions to be made to prevent excessive damage and better allocate resources for repair and upgrade work.

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Reliable data gathering and the capability to deploy sensors in remote and rural areas could have wider applications for public road network management. Roads currently need to be checked manually, racking up potentially hundreds of miles of travel.

While motorways and A roads are inspected annually for defects, B and C class roads are only examined every four to 20 years. Recent reports suggested that the backlog of repairs required for Scotland’s road network could cost as much as £1.7bn.

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Steven Gillan, director at DigiFlec, said: “Local authorities and landowners currently face a paucity of information about the conditions on their roads - a big part of the reason for that is the time and costs involved in gathering data - this makes it difficult to make good decisions about where to focus efforts, and maximise time, material and resources.

“Yet, Scotland has a working countryside with everything from heavy industry to the hospitality sector using roads alongside residents.

“Our system allows the people managing roads to better understand their condition, which is key to making road infrastructure a better experience for everyone.”

Josh Roberts, innovation manager at Forestry and Land Scotland, commented: “At the moment, to plan maintenance and check the condition of our road network we need to survey and inspect our roads by physically driving into the forest to check its condition and level of deterioration since our last site visit.

“With trips sometimes involving hundreds of miles of travel, this takes up a good deal of time and resources.

“This technology will give us the ability to allocate the right resources to the right place and at the right time, and transform how we make best use of our assets and deliver the best value for the public purse.”

CENSIS supported DigiFlec by building IoT capabilities into the sensors and developing a specific non-contact sensor that can detect road temperature without being placed in the concrete; which can weaken the road. The innovation centre also identified the most appropriate sensors to use that would capture the range of data required for the project, helping DigiFlec take the best overall sensing approach.

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