An automated cone-laying truck has been tested on the A5 and M54 in Shropshire by Kier.
A Highways England-led team that includes Kier and HW Traffic Management has developed two such vehicles. The first vehicle was created by Highway Care, and having undergone off-road testing, has now been tested on Highways England’s road network. Further testing is set to take place on the M4 in Berkshire.
The second vehicle, developed by competitor King Highway Products, is undergoing testing in Holland and will shortly be trialled off-road in the UK.
The vehicles avoid the need for two people to manually lift and drop the cones in almost all weathers. The bulk of this work is undertaken at night with the workers lifting as much as 10 tonnes of equipment per shift, with the ever-present danger of fast-moving traffic alongside them.
The automated cone-laying vehicles, which could be in use by the end of the year, are operated solely by the driver, therefore improving safety and freeing up two workers to carry out other tasks.
Highways England is funding the development and establishing a minimum standard, while the companies themselves are developing the vehicles.
Highways England criteria stipulates that not only must the machines offer a safer method for highways workers, they must be safe for all road users and pose no further risk to traffic.
The vehicles must be able to lay/collect at least 400 cones at a rate of one every 10 seconds If the tests prove successful, the two companies will be able to take their vehicles to the marketplace.
Martin Bolt, Highways England head of lean and continuous improvement, oversees the project, and he said: "The implications of these vehicles in protecting the safety of workers are immense and we are delighted that testing is progressing so well. By taking the human element out of laying cones, we are eliminating one of the greatest risks for road workers.
"We have received a lot of support from the industry as a whole for the automated vehicle and we are now getting some very positive feedback from those workers who have been trialling the Highways Care prototype on the live roads network."
Kier general foreman Stuart Pegg has used the vehicle to put out traffic management on the A5; he said: "It was great to be invited to participate in this advancement in traffic management. We have ironed out a few initial teething problems and I found the automated cone-laying vehicle easy to use. It performed above my personal expectations."
Watch a video of the cone-laying truck in action: