Wintersense: Demonstrating the potential of the IoT in winter road maintenance

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences

Abstract

On a cold night in winter with a frost forecast, UK highway authorities potentially spread up to 35,000 tonnes of rock salt over 3,500 salting routes in order to keep the nation's key roads open and safe. The spreading of de-icing agents in such quantities is not only a financial burden in terms of the costs of applying the salt and the damage it causes to concrete structures, but it can also be very damaging to the environment, adding salt to otherwise freshwater water courses. Despite the environmental issues, the perceived savings in reduced road accidents and road user delays are considered to be more important.

Winter maintenance engineers base their nightly decision making by consulting a Road Weather Information System (RWIS) which combines weather forecast data with road temperature and condition data. Marginal nights (where the road surface temperatures are forecast to be close to freezing) are the most problematic. In this situation, highway engineers face a difficult decision of whether or not to salt the network. If salt is spread, but no frost occurs, then unnecessary financial expenditure has occurred. However, if salt is not spread and a frost occurs, the roads become unsecured and a local authority could be subject to legal action. Even before the current economic climate, local authorities in the UK were under considerable pressure to demonstrate that they were achieving 'best value' from their winter maintenance budgets. Unfortunately, repeated budget cuts (to some extent justified by a run of mild winters before 2010) can lead to complacency and a lack of preparedness in winter maintenance regimes. This has had significant, highly noticeable, implications over the last few severe winters. As such, there is a significant challenge in achieving best value under the new financial regime. It is here where winter road maintenance needs to embrace the new opportunities afforded by the Internet of Things to make decision making smarter.

The latest generation of RWIS is based on route based forecasts which take into account how the local geography interacts with the regional climate to produce a detailed model of road surface temperatures for every 50m section of road. By knowing which sections of road are likely to fall below the 0C threshold on a night-by-night basis, highway engineers can selectively treat just the affected routes and thus make significant savings in salt usage. However, this is presently not happening. In an environment of increasing litigation, practitioners are nervous about making decisions based on model output as opposed to ground truth. This now means that the verification of route based road weather forecasts is urgently needed at an unprecedented scale. This proposal seeks to solve this problem by producing and deploying a new generation of low cost, internet enabled, sensors embedded within an Internet of Things ecosystem. However, this approach will not only provide a monitoring and verification solution, but also has the potential to form the basis of a new 'nowcasting' (i.e. forecast for the next 3 hours) solution for winter road maintenance. Hence, this project will develop and deploy a number of infrared road surface temperature sensors across an existing wireless network in Birmingham These sensors will be linked to a dedicated data hub which will manage the live feeds and update road weather forecasts in real-time to facilitate pro-active decision making by highway engineers.

Planned Impact

The work will be of relevance to any organisation or individual interested in the decision making process involved in winter road maintenance. The general public will also benefit from safer roads in winter. Quality of life will be improved by reducing the financial burden of winter road maintenance whilst maintaining health and safety for taxpayers. However, the primary direct beneficiaries to this research are the local highway authorities and other associated organisations responsible for winter road maintenance across the UK. As such, engagement activities will initially target this audience. This will be achieved by raising awareness of the project and associated technologies at the the premier annual event for winter maintenance practitioners based in the UK. This event has now been running for over 20 years and provides an annual opportunity for practitioners to hear about the latest research, developments and technology in the sector. It is extremely well attended, with the 2013 event attracting approximately 500 delegates from across the country. Hence, it provides a unique opportunity to target nearly all the key people working in the sector. The event is split into two components, a traditional conference and an exhibition where companies in the trade display their latest products and innovations. It is proposed that this event (Cold Comfort 2015) will provide a unique opportunity to showcase the work on this project. It is proposed that a stand is procured in the exhibition hall so that the sensors developed on this project can be demonstrated live to the delegates. The aim is to try and recruit a small number of interested parties to demo a sensor on their own road network. Whilst few highway authorities will be in the position to deploy a network of sensors such as that detailed in this proposal, all will have the capability to host a wireless sensor at some point on their network for trial purposes. Access will also be given to all interested parties to the data hub, so that they can personally assess the utility of 'low-cost' sensors for monitoring road surface temperatures. This approach will also be backed up with an article in the Surveyor magazine that month which is freely distributed to delegates as part of the delegate pack. Finally, if invited, a presentation will also be given as part of the conference component. However, this may actually be most applicable post project (e.g. Cold Comfort 2016) to present the findings of the project and therefore the overall applicability of the IoT in winter maintenance. Further UK engagement activities can also be facilitated by speaking to special interest groups (e.g. TSB Internet of Things) and the relevant Knowledge Transfer Networks (e.g. Sensors & Instrumentation KTN, Transport KTN and indeed the Transport Catapult). This approach is considered to be a strong, and original, means of attracting UK interest to the project, promoting engagement from interested and conducting the research 'into the wild'. With respect to an international audience, a similar, but scaled back dissemination strategy is proposed. The Standing International Road Weather Commission holds a bi-annual conference which typically has around 300 international academic, trade and practitioner delegates (typically from Northern and Eastern Europe, North America, Japan and China). Presentations will be made at this event in 2016 where the results of this project, and indeed the sensors can once again be demonstrated. Again, this is an excellent opportunity to highlight the utility of the Internet of Things approach to a diverse audience and should instantly facilitate international impact. It is envisaged that given the current rate of technological change, the ideas presented in this proposal may well become standard in the sector within 5 years.
 
Description We have shown that it is now possible to measure road surface temperatures at a cost which is more than an order of magnitude cheaper than current methods. This means that local authorities can now afford to place tens (if not hundreds) more sensors on the road than they could do previously. The importance of this is that the roads can be monitored for ice and actions can more closely mirror those proposed by forecasts. The results is cost savings for the local authority, but also safer roads for all.
Exploitation Route Ongoing trials with a number of local authorities as well as significant international interest. Scale up of the operating division to maximise commercialisation is now a priority.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Transport

URL http://www.wintersense.com
 
Description The findings are now just starting to be used by local authorities. They are just starting to be used operationally, but more commonly to improve tacit knowledge and inform future investment decisions. Smaller scale networks are having a large difference on prcatice (e.g. on car parks).
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Environment,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Winter Maintenance Practice
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The wintersense product is now under trial in several local authorities (and soon to be motorways). The data it provides is changing the way local authorities are conducting winter road maintenance as they more to more 'risk-based' decision making. It is still early days, but the lead academic has already presented to practitioners at the annual cold comfort trade show and is starting to influence national guidance via the National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG) where it featured in a highways magazine article as a NWSRG voice.
 
Description EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £54,487 (GBP)
Organisation University of Birmingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2015 
End 03/2017
 
Description Enterprising Birmingham Fund
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Birmingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2015 
End 12/2016
 
Description Environmental Risks to Infrastructure Innovation Programme
Amount £70,738 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P008976/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2017 
End 08/2017
 
Description Railway Standards & Safety Board ADHERE
Amount £55,191 (GBP)
Funding ID COF-AUT 
Organisation Rail Safety and Standards Board Ltd 
Start 10/2018 
End 01/2019
 
Description Solving the Adhesion Riddle
Amount £35,000 (GBP)
Organisation Rail Safety and Standards Board 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2014 
End 12/2014
 
Description UKCRIC - CORONA: City Observatory Research platfOrm for iNnovation and Analytics
Amount £1,011,544 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R013411/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 01/2020
 
Description University of Birmingham EPSRC Impact Accelaration Account
Amount £24,500 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
End 06/2018
 
Description University of Birmingham EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £42,647 (GBP)
Organisation University of Birmingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 03/2020
 
Description Amey 
Organisation Amey PLC
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Amey operate a wide area wi-fi network and we have tested our Internet of Things sensors on this network. This has led to subsequent co-created research. For example, we have completed a flagship project with Hampshire County Council working with Amey which has seen a large deployment of sensors for winter road maintenance purposes. Moving forward, we are now working with Amey and Kent County Council to deliver the largest road surface temperature monitoring network of its kind.
Collaborator Contribution Access to city-wide wi-fi infrastructure for prototyping. We now co-bid on tenders to deliver infrastructure to Amey Clients
Impact Co-created EPSRC grant investigated an Internet of Things solution based on the technology developed on HiTemp.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Hampshire County Council 
Organisation Hampshire County Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Working with Amey and other partners, we have a deployed a flagship network of sensors across the P1 gritting route.
Collaborator Contribution Hampshire have funded the trial.
Impact Too early to tell, but this could be a longer term project.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Highways England 
Organisation Department of Transport
Department Highways Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Project partners on the 'reducing the ice-hazard on smart motorways' project. We continue to work extensively together to use the technology across the wider network.
Collaborator Contribution Following success at the Intelligent Infrastructure Awards in 2017, Highways England have agreed to sponsor the wintersense product with a view to a wider roll out.
Impact Early stage at the time of writing.
Start Year 2016
 
Description IceWatch 
Organisation IceWatch
PI Contribution A nationwide sensor network for winter maintenance of car-parks. A sensor network of 10 sites was installed over 2017/18.
Collaborator Contribution site access.
Impact n/a
Start Year 2017
 
Description MeteoGroup 
Organisation MeteoGroup
PI Contribution A MoU was signed in 2017 for greater collaboration between the University and Meteogroup. The first area of collaboration to be explored was the wintersense product.
Collaborator Contribution Access to test sites in the Netherlands.
Impact n/a
Start Year 2017
 
Description Pinacl 
Organisation Pinacl Solutions (UK) Ltd
PI Contribution Worked together to adapt the wintersense technology for use on LoRa networks managed for clients by Pinacl.
Collaborator Contribution Access to networks.
Impact n/a
Start Year 2017
 
Description Research 'in the Wild' Partner: Waltham Forest 
Organisation Waltham Forest Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Supplied trial sensors to monitor road surface temperature.
Collaborator Contribution Hosted a sensor
Impact Sensor trial
Start Year 2015
 
Description Research 'in the wild' partner: Islington 
Organisation London Borough of Islington
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Supplied trial sensors.
Collaborator Contribution Hosted trial sensors
Impact Sensor trial
Start Year 2015
 
Description Research 'in the wild' partner: Leeds City Council 
Organisation Leeds City Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Provided trial sensor.
Collaborator Contribution Hosted trial sensor.
Impact Sensor trial.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Rotherham Council 
Organisation Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
PI Contribution Installation of a small scale sensor network for evaluation purposes.
Collaborator Contribution Just financial.
Impact Early stage.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Telensa 
Organisation Telensa Limited
PI Contribution Prototype integration of wintersense within Telensa streetlight systems
Collaborator Contribution n/a
Impact n/a
Start Year 2017
 
Description UK Met Office 
Organisation Meteorological Office UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Confidential.
Collaborator Contribution Numerous but includes supplying access to calibration facilities at Head Office and contributions to further grants. For example, the Met Office have been involved in the wintersense project where sensors have been used at a problematic forecast location to validate a new model.
Impact Co-created grant from the Railway Safety & Standards Board to transfer technology developed on NERC & EPSRC grants.
Start Year 2010
 
Description WaveReach 
Organisation WaveReach
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have provided sensors to test the capability of a rural broadband mesh in Powys.
Collaborator Contribution Access to an unsual mesh. Rural settings can be challenging for our technology,
Impact Too early to tell, but this is part of a bigger piece of work funded by DfT
Start Year 2016
 
Description Webthings 
Organisation Webthings Group Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Introduced the application of the technology to an SME with capability to further develop the idea.
Collaborator Contribution In kind development of new boards to harness LPWAN communications.
Impact 2nd generation sensor which has been deployed in multiple local authorities. Work ongoing to develop new generation of sensors.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Wigan County Council 
Organisation Wigan Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have installed a sensor network consisting of the next generation sensor developed from the wintersense project.
Collaborator Contribution Paid for installations for winter season 2016/17. Network extended 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Impact Live sensor network, not yet used operationally.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Amey / Hampshire County Council Press Release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A press release released by Amey / Hampshire County Council / Mayflower was picked up be numerous media outlets and resulted in a string of enquiries about wintersense:
http://www.transport-network.co.uk/Exclusive-Road-sensor-trial-could-transform-winter-maintenance/13724
http://luxreview.com/article/2017/02/smart-street-lights-tell-councils-when-to-grit-frozen-road
http://highwaysmagazine.co.uk/pilot-project-launched-to-help-gritting-teams/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.amey.co.uk/media/press-releases/2017/january/a-smarter-approach-to-winter-highways-manag...
 
Description CapGemini Innovation Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited presentation at the CapGemini week of innovation to highlight the emergence of the internet of things for infrastructure monitoring.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.capgemini.com/events/week-of-innovation-networks
 
Description Cold Comfort 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Annual stand at Cold Comfort to showcase low cost sensors to the industry. Led to significant interest and resulted in commercialisation plans being brought forward as well as an editorial in Surveyor magazine (2015) and a plenary in 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018
 
Description EPSRC Press Release / Media Interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Press release from EPSRC designed to increase awareness of the wintersense. Led to a number of TV (link below) and radio interviews.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6lP-q_yNI0
 
Description Invited Presentation at Highways UK trade show 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This was an invited presentation entitled ' Using the Internet of things to transform UK Winter Service' given as part of Highways UK 2017. The invitation was as a result of an entry into the Intelligent Infrastructure Awards of which we won the national category (industrial recognition for wintersense). This was heavily tweeted on social media by the organisers and we received a number of follow-up enquiries as a result. Of particular importance was following winning the prize, Highways England offered to sponsor follow up trials of the technology on the motorway network (work in addition to the current NERC grant). This has been picked up by the press (see URL below for an example)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.wirelessdesignmag.com/blog/2017/11/sensors-could-make-winter-road-conditions-easier-pred...
 
Description Invited Presentation at Lux LIve 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This invited talk was entitled: Snow joke: Street lights role in weather response. It reached a broad international audience with a particular interest in smart cities. There have been follow up activities where we have been approached by companies interested in including our sensing technology as part of their offer. Prototype sensors have since been sent to one interested partner.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://smartspacescampus.com/programme/
 
Description NWSRG Voices 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We wrote an 'NWSRG Voices' piece for www.highwaysmagazine.co.uk. NWSRG are an influential group in the area of winter road maintenance who steer best practice. Featuired in the January/February edition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.highwaysmagazine.co.uk/
 
Description Plenary at Cold Comfort 2017 Trade Show 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited plenary at Cold Comfort 2017 to discuss the role of the internet of things in winter road maintenance. Attended by nearly every local authority from across the UK (as well as international visitors). We also held a stand at the accompanying trade show where we received a huge amount of interest in the wintersense product which has subsequently led to sales.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Transport for London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk to the Transport For London, London Winter Service Practitioners Group (WSPG). Attended by a number of unitary boroughs across the capital and follows on from the trials held with the 'in the wild' partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017