Science and Technology

UK mines Aussie autonomous tech for road project

Highways-England-A14-widening-autonomous-truck
Source: Highways England

In what is most definitely not a case of taking coal to Newcastle, a road-building project in England is using Australian-proven autonomous vehicle technology to help get the job done.

In its A14 road upgrade project on the 34-kilometre Cambridge to Huntingdon stretch, Highways England has put in a place an autonomous dump truck, and is testing it in a controlled environment. Driving the use of this truck is the desire to reduce both the construction time and risk to road workers’ safety. As of late February 2019, according to the Office of Rail and Road, this project on the A14 has operated at more than 4.5 million man hours, without a serious incident, and with only one safety incident at all during the construction.

‘We’re increasingly looking to technological advances to help us safely bring improvements to drivers on England’s motorways and major A roads,’ said Highways England’s Deputy Project Director, Julian Lamb.

‘Road construction has changed massively over the years and the testing of trucks such as these promises to allow us to work efficiently, speeding up roadworks, giving more protection to road workers, and moving jobs to other skilled areas.’

‘The trial we are leading with our partner CA Blackwell will enable the construction industry as a whole to be in a more informed position to make key decisions about autonomy on UK construction sites,’ continued Mr Lamb.

From mines to roads

The autonomous tech, as has been used in Australian mines for quite some years now, was suggested by Richard Austin, an Australian working for CA Blackwell. Atop the truck is a GPS tracker, wi-fi receiver, and a LIDAR unit. The truck can carry a load of up to 40,000 kilograms, operates on a pre-determined route, with its rooftop tech detecting any obstacles.

Alongside the desire for time saving and danger reduction, it is claimed the implementation of the truck is in response to Highways England currently struggling to find machinery drivers.

Highways England has committed £150,000 from its innovation-designated fund into this autonomous truck trial, with the hope that within two or three years such vehicles will be in full operation.

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