Lancaster engineers part of £4.5 million smart city live lab project

Cars driving on UK roads
New road surfaces will be developed to harvest energy from passing traffic

Futuristic roads that generate electricity from passing traffic are just one part of an ambitious UK project aiming to revolutionise local road networks with smart infrastructure.

Involving key investigators from Lancaster University’s Department of Engineering, the ‘SMART Connected Community: Live Labs’ project, which is led by Buckinghamshire County Council, focuses on Aylesbury Garden Town.

The project, which has received £4.5 million of innovation grant funding from the SMART Places Live Labs Programme, is one of eight Live Labs projects. The £22.9 million programme, funded by the Department for Transport, is led by the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT). 

The Live Labs project will test technological advances encompassing wireless communication sensors, smart materials, and energy generation and storage.

Researchers from Lancaster University’s Department of Engineering will design, fabricate and test smart roads that generate electricity using piezoelectricity and hydromechanical dynamics from passing cars, trucks and buses. The electricity harvested by the ‘smart’ roads will be stored by roadside batteries to power street lamps, road signs, air pollution monitors, as well as sensors that can detect when potholes are forming.

In addition, the smart roads will generate data on vehicle speeds, the types of vehicle travelling along the roads, as well as other information on traffic flows. This data will help the local highways authority to better manage traffic.

The two-year research into smart road surfaces is led by Professor Mohamed Saafi, at Lancaster University.

He said: “This is a very exciting project where we will develop novel smart road surfaces that harvest energy to power sensors that can monitor both the structural integrity of road surfaces and traffic flows – providing valuable new data streams that will help to significantly improve the efficiency of highways management and maintenance.

“We see these next generation energy harvesting road surfaces as an important part of future smart cities.”

The researchers will develop bespoke designs specific to the road conditions in  Aylesbury. These designs will be tested using computer simulations to determine the optimum number and locations of energy harvesting sections before being constructed and installed in Buckinghamshire.

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) represents local authority county, unitary and metropolitan Directors. The ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme is a two-year £22.9million project funded by the Department for Transport and supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP. Local authorities are working on eight projects to introduce digital innovation across SMART mobility, transport, highways maintenance, data, energy and communications. Live Labs is part of ADEPT’s SMART Places programme to support the use of digital technology in place-based services.

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