Meteorologists at the University of Birmingham have been developing internet-connected temperature sensors that could cut millions from road-gritting costs and help local authorities prepare for bad weather.
Fitted on the street side of lampposts near ground level, the hand-sized sensors collect and transmit data on road-surface temperatures, enabling local authorities, highways agencies and other organisations to target precisely where gritting is needed and where it isn’t. Temperature data is transmitted via Wifi every ten minutes, providing a non-stop stream of data.
Sensors funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in conjunction with Amey plc have already been successfully trialled in Birmingham, London and other parts of the country.
Each one costs £200, compared to £10,000 or so needed to maintain a weather forecasting station like the ones currently relied on by local authorities. Because no cabling is required, the sensors can be rolled out rapidly.
Project leader Dr Lee Chapman said: “Generally, a local authority may have just two or three of these weather stations, which means the decisions they make are based more on forecasts than actual information. But because our new sensors are so inexpensive, local authorities could afford to deploy scores or even hundreds of them and make very localised decisions about the need to grit on a route by route basis. That’s extremely useful in view of the fact that there can be a 10°C to 15°C difference in road temperatures across a county on a given winter’s night.”
He added: “The UK typically uses 2 million tonnes of salt in an average winter. Our estimates demonstrate that by eliminating unnecessary gritting, this new technology could easily enable savings of between 20% and 50%, which would be equivalent to over £100 million per year in salt across the country as a whole.”
Real-time decision-making has the potential to be extended even further, with individual gritting lorries switching their gritters on and off as they move along in response to data generated by sensor networks.
The next step is to work with industry partners towards full commercialisation and eventual mass production of the sensors.