Complex maintenance cycles and the use of a wide range of asphalt products means that the Highways Agency possesses little, very detailed information about the constitution of their road surfaces.
To explore the feasibility and value of embedding an electronic identification tag into the surface of the road to store and transmit detailed information about the road surface
As part of the Highways Agency research programme and undertaken with supply chain partners Scott Wilson, the University’s Nottingham Transportation Engineering Centre (NTEC) integrated hard-wearing chips that could transmit - and even record - information about the road’s surface, including its constitution, use and condition
NTEC have shown that the identification tags can survive the high temperatures and pressures experienced during road construction and produced a report exploring the long term value to the Highways Agency.
The wide range of road surfacing products available and the number of different maintenance treatments, means that the Highways Agency has little, very detailed information about the materials from which their roads are constructed. Yet knowing the precise constitutions of sand, bitumen and aggregate could make future maintenance easier and encourage more recycling.
This problem is being addressed by The University of Nottingham’s, Nottingham Transportation Engineering Centre (NTEC), part of the School of Civil Engineering. Formerly the Nottingham Centre for Pavement Engineering, established in 1954, NTEC is one of the world’s foremost university-based research organisations in road engineering. Offering cutting edge expertise in surfaces for roads, ports, runways, indeed any engineered surface designed to spread the load of vehicles, NTEC has been subcontracted by world-class civil engineers Scott Wilson as consultants for this important study.
Tony Parry, Associate Professor at The University of Nottingham, was asked by Scott Wilson to explore the potential value and the feasibility of embedding a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag into a road surface asphalt material. This tag would be added to the aggregate at the point the asphalt is mixed, and would then transmit information to a vehicle mounted scanner.
“We proved that RFID tags are able to survive temperatures of up to 180°C and provide readings from varying depths,” declared Dr Parry. “But we wanted to go further. So, with the University’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, we looked at the feasibility of gathering more sophisticated information on the road surface’s condition.”
This vital data would include traffic volumes, surface temperature, moisture, weight, surface stress and strength, all recorded through an additional silicon chip sensor inside the RFID tag. Importantly, data could then be gathered without having to close the road, and in turn provide information which could be used to project when the road may have to be repaired or replaced, and how much this is likely to cost.
This study is indicative of the issues facing the Highways Agency, as Dr Parry knows through experience: “The need to spend more time and money on operational research - looking at processes of construction and maintenance - is vital if the Highways Agency is to meet its diverse objectives.”
He continued: “10 years ago, it was the building and maintenance of roads, bridges and motorways that occupied the Highways Agency. Today, those priorities have changed. Now the Highways Agency must also address issues such as reducing congestion, noise and air pollution.”
It is for this very reason that Highways Agency also utilised Dr Parry’s expertise to consult on their future research strategy in pavement engineering and the best allocation of that part of Highways Agency’s £12m research budget.
“A simple example of our study was the need to look at the value of building dedicated truck lanes and high occupancy vehicle lanes,” stated Dr Parry. “We highlighted the need to answer questions about the cost of construction. What impact would they have on congestion, traffic flow, noise and air quality? Would their long term value outweigh the cost?”. Such questions Dr Parry hopes to address in the future.