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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/L02375X/1
Title: Wintersense: Demonstrating the potential of the IoT in winter road maintenance
Principal Investigator: Chapman, Professor L
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Amey LG
Department: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 October 2014 Ends: 30 September 2016 Value (£): 165,429
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Information & Knowledge Mgmt Networks & Distributed Systems
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies Transport Systems and Vehicles
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
04 Mar 2014 RitW 2013 Full Proposals Meeting Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
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.

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Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk