National Highways, the UK government company that plans, designs, builds, operates and maintains England’s motorways and major A roads, known as the strategic road network (SRN), has revealed that it has conducted a trial into how streetlighting could be used to pave the way for autonomous vehicles in the future.
Featuring closed-circuit television and wireless technology stored inside roadside streetlight lanterns, the ‘proof of concept’ trial took place on the M40 Junction 15 (Longbridge Roundabout) near Birmingham in the UK Midlands. The ‘Illuminate’ project ran for five months in 2021 and successfully proved the concept, with the technology able to communicate data to office equipment and tablet computers.
The knowledge gained in the trial will be used to help shape National Highways’ strategy for managing future connected and autonomous (CAV) infrastructure, which will see information on traffic updates, speed limits and diversions pushed out to vehicles to help their onboard computers plan journeys more effectively.
Streetlighting has often been viewed as a standalone asset, but technology that has emerged in recent years could enable wider use of this vital asset. Bandwidth has restricted airwave transmissions in the past, but with the rollout of 5G and the IoT (Internet of Things) infrastructures, lighting could be equipped with devices such as wireless access points and cameras.
National Highways is looking for technologies that can effectively support autonomous vehicles so they can push and receive messages across the network. These messages could be about speed limits and incidents, with updates on clearance times – useful information to help drivers plan their journeys.
This would involve a large-scale deployment of technology across the network and streetlights may be the answer.
“These are exciting times as we progress on our Digital Roads journey with the growth of digital technology and the move to electric, connected and autonomous vehicles that will fundamentally change how we use roads in the future,” said National Highways’ innovations lead for the Midlands, Lisa Maric.
“National Highways is committed to ensuring we are at the forefront of this digital revolution and are preparing the way for the greener and safer roads of tomorrow. Initial trials such as Illuminate will help us identify new innovations, technology and methods to meet our digital goals,” she continued. “We were pleased with how Illuminate performed as a proof of concept and the useful knowledge gained as we continue to plan for the roads of the future.”
National Highways worked with Kier Highways on the Illuminate trial: “Being able to install technology, such as CCTV while we are replacing streetlighting is a more efficient way of working and provides better value for customers,” added Kier Highways’ project manager, Carla Vicente. “More importantly, it is a safer and less disruptive way of working, reducing the number of road closures required. The Illuminate project was a great example of collaboration across internal Kier teams, our client National Highways, the supply chain and the manufacturer. This proof of concept will feed in to other future projects and the learnings will help to deliver more collaborative and sustainable projects, which will support National Highways’ carbon net zero targets.”
The trial was funded through National Highways’ Innovation and Modernisation Fund, which is helping to maximize the opportunities offered by developments such as automated vehicles while putting safety at the forefront of emerging technologies.
The luminaires, called V-Max, were supplied by manufacturer Holophane, while Mway installed the technology inside the luminaires and worked on the software that enables the communications.
No autonomous vehicles were used on the network as part of the trial.