National Highways trials AI to ease roadwork problems

After inviting proposals last year and then producing a shortlist, National Highways has chosen three proposals that use technology to minimise the traffic disruption caused by roadworks.

All three winning ideas use artificial intelligence (AI). They each get up to £60,000 to trial their ideas on the roads. They are among the proposals that were shortlisted in March 2023, getting £15,000 each for feasibility studies.

The three winners are:

  • Cambridge-based Alchera Technologies, which aims to use AI to improve roadwork planning by better understanding the impacts of different roadworks and road closures ensuring the best option for road users and reduced delays. They will be working with Costain.
  • Robok, also based in Cambridge, plans to use AI-powered computer vision technology to analyse CCTV footage offering a better understanding of both road user and roadworker behaviour and helping to improve people’s experiences of roadworks. This trial will be supported by Balfour Beatty.
  • WordNerds, of Gateshead, wants to provide new insights on people’s perception of roadworks using AI-powered text analytics, which could help National Highways make evidence-based improvements on planned works. Kier and Costain are supporting this trial.

Working in collaboration with Connected Places Catapult, National Highways launched the competition in a bid to find new or existing technology, products or solutions that can make a positive difference to people’s experience of roadworks.

National Highways executive director for major projects Nicola Bell said: “Our goal in launching the competition was to find new ideas to help reduce the impact of roadworks on people and we are confident these exciting projects will be able to do just that.

“We are putting them to the test on our network which will be the real challenge but we are excited to see how well they perform and the difference they can make not only to road users but people living near ongoing works.

“Roadworks are frustrating but they are an essential part of managing our roads so anything we can do to ease the impact of these vital works is to be welcomed.”

The three trials start in January. As well as the funding to develop their projects, the winning ideas also get technical and commercial support from experts at Connected Places Catapult and at National Highways to help develop and scale up their innovations.

Alchera Technologies co-founder and chief executive Anna Jordan, said: “Alchera already works with major highways customers. It was a natural progression to seek a relationship with the biggest customer in our home market, National Highways. The competition provided us with that opportunity. The trial enables us to proof our technology in day-to-day operations, demonstrate the value to National Highways, seeking to establish a business-as-usual relationship at conclusion.”

Robok co-founder and chief executive Hao Zheng said: “We are excited to team up with National Highways and Balfour Beatty utilising CCTV cameras at roadworks to improve road user experiences. This project has the potential to unlock rich information to drive informed decisions, benefiting drivers, workers and the wider community as a whole.”

Wordnerds innovation manager Ruth Erdal said: “Wordnerds is focused on helping large organisations understand and act on their customer feedback, and it’s been so energising to see National Highway’s vision – of keeping the customer at the centre of everything they do. Having worked closely with National Highways and Costain in the feasibility phase, we are very excited to be undertaking a live trial with both organisations, plus Kier, in 2024. Together we will demonstrate how AI can improve the way the sector deals with feedback, and ultimately impact the way we all experience roadworks.”

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