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Digital Roads of the Future


The Digital Roads of the Future initiative is supported by two grants, Digital Roads, and Future Roads. They have a combined budget of £14.5m, and are both focused on expressways, a term used to describe dual carriageway trunk roads that are mostly grade separated.

Combined, these programmes will build a critical mass of over 50 researchers at the University of Cambridge (UOC) over the next five years, working collaboratively with National Highways (NH), Costain (COS) and many other industry partners, to develop a connected physical and digital road infrastructure system.

The research encompasses four key areas, exploring how they can work together to develop a connected physical and digital road infrastructure system, while being underpinned by sustainability, to help reduce traffic, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and electrify the network.


The central vision of this work involves five key research themes. Digital Twins is all about setting the foundations for road life-cycle management. Smart Materials - being aware of their state and properties, as well as assisting their maintainers & users. Data Science focuses on data-driven insight to inform design, construction, maintenance and operations. Automation and Robotics to support pro-active interventions and enable automated routine maintenance. Each of these themes is underpinned by a commitment to Sustainability of human and natural resources, carbon, ecosystems, hazards and life-cycle impacts.

There are five thematic areas of study: Digital Twins, Smart Materials, Data Science, Automation and Robotics, all underpinned by Sustainability.


The vision is to move away from traditional road management, towards a system whereby the physical and digital aspects are considered together, in addition to product and process. This incorporates five key scientific areas of research: digital twins, smart materials, data science, automation and robotics, as well as sustainability.  Within the physical product component, this can be achieved by looking at inert materials and converting them to smart materials. These materials, aware of their state and properties, can assist their maintainers and users. The scope of this can be explored by looking at materials capable of self sensing and self healing, such as nano materials and flexible electronics. Within the physical component, automation and robotics advances have the potential to automate all routine inspection and maintenance. In addition, the data coming from the smart materials, through the robotics, and on to the digital twins can then be integrated. By using the correct data structures and operation mechanisms, the resulting information will help to inform design, construction, maintenance and operational decisions.