This week Innovate UK featured as a case study one of its ten Internet of Things Convergence - Feasibility study projects, led by Lancashire-based InTouch, that has developed a Internet of Things based system for improved efficiency of highway maintenance services, partly as a result of the three month project in 2011.
InTouch was subsequently awarded funding for the much larger Internet of Things Ecosystem Demonstrators, the we featured back in April 2013. Eight winning projects of the then Technology Strategy Board’s Internet of Things Ecosystem Demonstrator - supported for business-led projects with £6.2 million of funding to deliver and launch ‘Internet of Things clusters’.
Each cluster attempted to help industry address issues such as ecosystem development, validating business models, interoperability, data availability, trust and cost.
The internet of things, AKA M2M, is an envisioned connected world resulting from networked devices able to sense and interact with other networked devices and for that connectivity to be integrated into “things” including cars, trucks, trains, clothing, medical devices, electrical appliances and smartphones.
Smart Streets IoT Hub
The Smart Streets cluster proposed to demonstrate the potential of IoT to drive innovation in the highways sector.
Highways maintenance is a £3.9 billion industry requiring costs of large IT systems currently offering low-levels of data accessibility, interoperability and innovation. The project aimed to aggregate data from a consortium including three of the UK’s largest infrastructure service companies to develop a more open data ecosystem. It proposed testing three 'apps' and engage with a network of 500+ SMEs for 3 others.
InTouch led the project that ran for a year to last April, with partners including Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Amey PLC and Lancaster University.
Smart Streets a store of highway services data
InTouch Managing director John Walden’s first step was to find a more innovative way to share and using data.
The £50,000 in grant funding from Innovate UK enabled the company and Lancaster University to carry out a feasibility study. This laid the foundation for the Smart Streets project – an open data hub for road maintenance that could significantly reduce costs and create new revenue opportunities. It received grant funding of £635,000 from Innovate UK.
The Smart Streets hub stores a wide variety of facts and figures – from the state of roads through to maintenance schedules and meteorological data. It allows industry partners to share and exploit that information using the HyperCat specification to improve the efficiency of highway services.
Accurate data for targeted maintenance
The quantity of data involved was reported to be ‘immense’, with Redcar & Cleveland Council for instance covering approximately 90 square miles and more than 30,000 road gullies.
InTouch were required to capture data affordably, establish appropriate levels of sampling and negotiate complex legal and business issues arising from the range of organisations responsible for highway maintenance.
Smart Streets has the capability, it’s claimed, to build an accurate picture of gullies that get blocked regularly and need frequent cleaning and those that are typically clear and running freely when inspected. This means data can be generated automatically and used to update a virtual representation of highways.
For example, gritting trucks are typically fitted with GPS trackers that also monitor the amount of salt the gritter is placing on the road. Live data from these devices can be used to work out the state of the highway.
Money to be made from predictive analytics
There’s real money to be made in such physical infrastructure according to The Smart Streets academic partner Prof. Nigel Davies of Lancaster University - as described at last September’s University of Southampton’s Internet of the Car Symposium.
While the The Smart Streets Hub: Internet of Things Approach to Highways Maintenance project showed ways to reduce costs of infrastructure maintenance and improving the efficiency of operation, data, he suggested, will be available for predicting the future, so freeing transport planners from traffic planning (although not entirely).
In the future a combination of scheduling and predictive planning should reduce the costs of fixing potholes, managing drainage, and other less than glamorous but costly issues for local authorities.
More intelligent highway maintenance
InTouch Ltd has participated in 5 Innovate UK and 2 EPSRC funded projects, including the The FAITH project that developed a digital system that captures and feeds back required data to reduce the cost associated with highway inspections and also to ensure that anyone who has to communicate with the councils and their contractors receives accurate and up to date information which can be trusted.
This programme was also a collaboration with Lancaster University and Carillion PLC.
A web based solution for the office and a iPad based solution for operatives was developed, to provide accurate information of the location and the condition of roadside gullies and information for operatives through to intelligently cleanse gullies.
The more reliable database of assets can then be targeted for cleaning to target problem areas, the result being a potential 30% efficiency gain.
In-field solutions competition
InTouch has also secured Innovate UK grant funding of £75,000 for a feasibility study into using mobile computing can be used to reduce congestion on the M25 and also maintain the transport infrastructure more effectively and efficiently while keeping road users informed.
The project was one of twelve feasibility studies that received combined Innovate UK investment of just over £600,000 for new approaches to dealing with traffic congestion through ‘integration’ under the Integrated transport - In-field solutions competition.
The SITI-M: Smart Integrated Transport Infrastructure Maintenance study explored the feasibility of mobile computing and new forms of maintenance contract for smarter, more integrated road maintenance, integrated fashion across transport modes, and by communicating to travellers.
The Integrated transport - In-field solutions competition has two phases. The first phase feasibility studies started in 2014, are to be followed by in-field trials. A competition for support for these trials closed for applications on 25 March 2015.