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Highways England publishes £150 million five year innovation strategy previewing an annual innovation challenge

Highways England has published its Innovation strategy, a five year £150 million plan to support the government’s £15 billion Road Investment Strategy.

The strategy highlights planned projects that it will trial or investigate, including in new technologies and opportunities such as big data, and Internet of Things, in order to improve safety and tackle congestion on England’s strategic road network.

This network carries a third of the country’s overall traffic and two thirds of its freight traffic.


The five challenges

The document describes the agency’s strategy for innovation, technology and research, with the intention of support its strategic objectives and create value for customers and stakeholders.

These specific challenges as set out in the government’s road strategy are identified as:

  • Safety: a vision that no one should be harmed when travelling or working on the SRN
  • Capacity: Traffic on isa networks is expected to grow between 27% and 57% by 2040
  • Environment: HA needs to tackle air pollution and support the shift to a low carbon transport system
  • Customers: It will Wprovide better traffic information to help people make the best choices
  • Efficiency: It has efficiency targets of £1.2bn to deliver by 2020

To help address these challenges, Highways Agency has set up a Innovation Designated Fund, to provide £150 million for innovation capital projects over the next five years. This will be used to “support key priorities set out in the Road Investment Strategy”. These could include trials of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, provision of better information to customers and improved management of our network and infrastructure assets.

The projects that will be supported will be spread across all areas of innovation, with ‘high level allocations’ suggested as £50 million for improving infrastructure„; New (emerging) technology - £35m; Support to sustainable operation - £35m; Data information - £25m; and Safety - £5m.


Initial projects

As previewed by the chancellor in the March 2016 budget, initial projects to be funded include:

  • The first motorway to motorway traffic management scheme, to improve journeys for our customers.
  • Testing tunnel detection systems in the Hindhead tunnel to contribute to improved safety in these environments.
  • Working with the Department for Transport (DfT) and the freight industry to deliver freight platooning, and trial a ‘connected corridor’ in the South East.
  • A Collaborative Traffic Management programme on the M25.
  • Fuel price signs on the M5, to allow customers to make informed purchasing decisions during their journeys.

In addition, a number of activities will support the planned and future innovation projects, including:

  • Exploring the creation of a Test and Innovation Centre, which would provide a safe (off road) environment to test and develop new highway technology solutions.
  • Seeking to use smart motorways to test innovations and prepare them for connected vehicles, for example trialling radar technology to detect stationary vehicles in live lanes.

Other Designated Funds will also support innovation including the:

  • Environment Fund
  • Cycling, Safety and Integration Fund
  • Air Quality Fund
  • Growth and Housing Fund

Highways Agency is currently collaborating with Rijkswaterstaat, operator of the strategic road network in the Netherlands, to deliver innovative solutions to customers through the CHARM project which is working on a new generation of traffic management systems.

CHARM - A collaboration programme between the former Highways Agency (HA), Rijkswaterstaat (RWS), Mobiliteit en Openbare Werken (MOW), Innovate uK and Agentschap NL was initiated in March 2011, aims to define a new generation of traffic management systems that may be jointly purchased - to improve traffic throughput, road safety, CO2 footprint and reduce the costs of traffic management by moving to an open modular architecture for Traffic Management Centres equipped with advanced traffic management, traffic prediction and cooperative systems.


Innovation focus areas

Highways England defines innovation as the application of a new process or product that benefits its customers and stakeholders.

It will structure its innovation activities around eight key outcomes (or focus areas) set out in the Government’s Road Investment Strategy.

These are:

  1. Making the network safer
  2. Improving user satisfaction
  3. Encouraging economic growth
  4. Delivering better environmental outcomes
  5. Keeping the network in good condition
  6. Supporting the smooth flow of traffic
  7. Achieving real efficiency
  8. Helping cyclists, walkers and other vulnerable users of the network


Connected and autonomous vehicles

An example where the Highways agency foresees breakthrough innovation is in future-proofing its network for connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, which, it states, “could unlock major safety, traffic flow, environmental and economic benefits”.

To support and enable these benefits, it states that it will work in partnership with government and industry to prepare the network for the vehicles of the future, through:

  • Investigating operational and behavioural issues and risks
  • Trialling connected and autonomous vehicles on our network
  • Developing relevant infrastructure standards
  • Developing future strategies for operating
    and managing the network.

The agency said it is currently engaging with car manufacturers and undertaking feasibility studies in order to develop plans to trial connected and autonomous vehicles on its network, and investigating different technologies, infrastructure and data requirements.


Partnering and open innovation

The strategy states that the agency will “pursue a strategy of open innovation, increasing our external focus to identify potential partners, opportunities and promising new areas of research and technology. We will identify new internal and external paths to market where our partners can share risk and reward.”

It envisages working with government, academia, small to medium enterprises, other transport authorities and wider industry to help it share and stimulate new ideas. Key partners it identifies include the Catapult Centres, Innovate UK, Transport Focus, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and the Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).

It added that it is developing a collaboration agreement and joint programme of research with the Transport Systems Catapult, to give it access to innovation and cutting edge research carried out in academia and industry.

It also plans annual innovation challenge ‘competitions’, bringing together “a wide range of organisations to identify ideas and develop innovative solutions”, and to use knowledge networks to encourage knowledge transfer and cross-fertilisation.

It also wishes to develop ‘open-source’ solutions and actively share insights from innovation with others.


Implementation Plan expected in April

The Highways Agency said it is developing a more detailed plan, setting out how it will implement its innovation strategy, which is stated as to be published at the end of April.

The Implementation Plan will include action plans centred around the stages of the innovation lifecycle and underpinned by the development of an innovation culture and capability across the business.

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