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Digital Roads of the Future


Roads are currently made with many layers of inert materials, poorly documented and monitored,  far from being sustainable, maintained reactively and serve no additional functionality. We will rethink the structure and composition of road materials to transform them into smart materials aware of their state and properties, documented in Digital Twins, monitored automatically and maintained proactively, able to serve additional functionalities and are low carbon and environmentally responsible. We will address these challenges under the three interconnected high level themes of: Digitisation, Decarbonisation and the Environment.

Digitisation of our roads and pavement materials will enable them to monitor their own health and communicate with their Digital Twin and robotic systems and be guided and optimised by data-driven approaches. Our research to date has included the development of self-sensing materials, with conductive fillers and fibres as well as coatings; the deployment of carbon nanomaterials and graphene; the extensive use of different sensor and sensor devices, including innovative sensors for material health monitoring and early warning signals; the exploitation of digital tools; data capture, interpretation, interrogation and management as well as the development and testing of off-site, prefabrication and 3D printing manufacturing processes.

Decarbonisation of our roads and pavement materials, with their high carbon emissions, will enable the significant reduction in the carbon footprint of highways projects. This will accelerate the efforts towards achieving net zero and deliver net-zero road projects. Our research has focused on the development and testing of low carbon pavement materials (cement, concrete, aggregates, binders, additives, reinforcement); the development of self-healing, self-immunising and self-strengthening materials; smart material use with material reduction, use of recycled materials and maximising the use of waste materials and streams; carbon capture, storage and reuse within pavement materials and the wider road infrastructure as well as the performance of carbon footprint calculations and whole life performance modelling and analyses.

Environmentally responsible roads and pavement materials will enable highway projects to play a central role in minimising negative environmental impacts and enhancing the surrounding environment. Our research has focused on designing pavement materials with added functionality, both technical and environmental, including reduction of run-off, removing pollution from the air and reducing noise; protecting the environment through the use of locally available materials, material reuse and delivering zero waste projects as well as future-proofing through the delivery of climate resilient pavements and life cycle analyses.

Advanced materials have revolutionised many sectors and industries and are the major contributor to product innovations. Our vision is to deliver a similar transformation in pavement materials.

Digital Roads Annual Review 2023 & research update

On 8 September 2023, Digital Roads held their first annual review. You can watch the research update here.  A research poster was created to illustrate the work carried out by the Smart Materials team in the first year. 

Also relevant to the Digital Roads development is work undertaken in our uniting theme of Delivering Impact. The Delivering Impact research poster can be seen here.