Roads of the future will be Internet of Things highways full of sensors, robots and connected cars, according to Department for Transport (DfT) minister John Hays MP, who believes Britain is at a turning point in the history of road building.
“The craft is about to be transformed by the digital revolution. Our roads, bridges and tunnels are joining the Internet of Things (IoT),” he said in a speech to London’s ResPublica think tank. “In the future, road surfaces will supply electric cars with inductive charging. In cold weather, heating elements will prevent roads from freezing. The use of self-healing materials and nanotechnology will help keep roads in good condition.
“Road structures will automatically alert engineers to developing faults. And robots will be deployed to inspect bridges and carry out maintenance.”
Hays did not reveal any polices around the development of IoT roads, but he did reference the DfT’s £15bn plans to increase the capacity and condition of England’s roads over the next 25 years.
To carry out these plans Hays said the DfT will need IT professionals and “nanotechnologists and roboticists”, alongside traditional workers from the roads supply chain.
Much of this £15bn investment appears to be earmarked for building extra lanes on motorways and constructing a tunnel under Stonehenge, as well as creating new roads.
As such, it is unclear if the government will be channelling money into roads with IoT functionality in the near future.
The minister said IoT transformation is already happening in the form of the A14, Britain’s first internet-connected road where sensors monitor traffic and communicate with mobile phones in vehicles, then use that data to smooth the flow of traffic.
He highlighted how wireless communication between vehicles and the environment already takes place in connected cars, which provide drivers with updates about hazards, weather and traffic conditions.
With the government opening up the UK’s roads to driverless cars, Hays’ vision for the future of the nation’s highways may not be too far away.