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National Highways targets digital rehearsals and automated plant

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A commitment to digital rehearsals and the use of semi-automated plant are among the highlights of National Highways’ new Digital Roads 2025 strategy.

The strategy details the agency’s targets over the next four years for the role of digital in the design and construction of roads, the network’s operation and the interface with road users.

The strategy commits National Highways to learning lessons from trials of digital rehearsals by the end of 2022, and adopting digital rehearsals across all major construction activities during the three-year period of 2023-2025.

This will require a framework of digital rehearsals requirements and tools to be established by 2024.

The agency plans to review and revise existing contracts and legislation to facilitate the use of connected and semi-automated plant, and then encourage the supply chain to develop and deploy such technology on all major projects.

The strategy also states that modularised and offsite fabrication will become the default across all new schemes where practical in 2023-25.

Digital twin of the network

A digital twin is also incorporated into the strategy: the development of a data model at level 2 maturity (according to the Centre for Digital Built Britain maturity model) for all of the strategic road network is slated for the entire four-year period, and will include the augmentation of third-party data (including that gathered from sensors and drones).

As announced earlier in the summer, the twin is being developed in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the EU MSCA COFUND programme, Costain and the University of Cambridge.

Dr Ioannis Brilakis at the University of Cambridge said: “It is high time the transportation infrastructure sector embraces digital transformation. We should strive to replace drawings and static 3D models with dynamic and data-rich digital twins, pdf documents with databases, file exchange with cloud permissions exchange, passive materials with smart materials able to sense and heal themselves and automate all manual routine maintenance. All this is possible on a data science foundation, able to generate rich, data-driven insights to help us make better decisions.”

National Highways will also launch a Digital Roads innovation competition later this year.

Elliot Shaw, National Highways executive director of strategy and planning, said: “We are at the beginning of a digital revolution on our roads network, a once-in-a-century transformation that will fundamentally change how our roads are designed, built, operated and used.

“Digital Roads will make our roads safer and greener. Improvements and maintenance will be delivered more quickly with less disruption and road users will have a far better end-to-end journey experience, with savings on time and the cost of travel.”

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