Computer road design could take over a significant proportion of work from human consultants over the next decade, under Highways England’s Rapid Engineering Model (REM), a senior figure has suggested.
Elliot Shaw, executive director of strategy and planning at Highways England, has said that the government-owned company is starting to use the REM system, which uses a ‘digital twin’ of the strategic road network (SRN) to design new schemes.
‘The Rapid Engineering Model is a digital model we have built to design smart motorways. This came out of a challenge our smart motorways director gave the team to design me a smart motorway scheme in a day,’ he said.
‘We built a digital twin of the network and we have a rules-based modular design system. The model itself will design and build the smart motorway. It basically calls on the human where there are challenges that it can’t design itself but the vast majority is designed by the computer. ‘This is hugely increasing productivity, and hugely increasing pace. This should become the norm over the next decade or so.’
Highways England is working to create a digital connected, smart motorway ‘spine’ throughout England, creating a network of roads where the hard shoulder can be in operation, speed limits can be altered depending on conditions and more information can be provided to drivers on issues such as journey time planning and road works.
Mr Shaw said that as the connected network ambitions start to take shape the road infrastructure could be stripped back.
‘Ultimately we talk about getting to a naked motorway concept. So if a lot of these technologies come together – in a way that you can communicate with drivers and operate the network – a lot of the current infrastructure that we have around motorways shouldn’t need to be there.
‘Actually we can communicate directly and operate in a more intelligent way with a much greater information transfer from us to vehicles and from vehicles back to us.’
This is the kind of concept, Highways England is hoping to build into its planning for the future and over the next six to nine months as it develops its delivery plan for the second Road Investment Strategy, 2020-2025.