Researchers at the University of Birmingham have developed sensors that could cut millions from road-gritting costs and help local authorities get ready for colder days ahead.

Unnecessary gritting of roads and car parks could be avoided and road safety in cold weather boosted thanks to these new internet-connected, temperature sensors that have already been successfully trialled in Birmingham, London and elsewhere across the country.

Non-stop data stream

Fitted to lampposts, for example, the low-cost devices collect and transmit a non-stop stream of data on road-surface temperatures that local authorities, highways agencies and other organisations can use to target precisely where gritting is needed – and where it isn’t.

The sensors have been developed by meteorologists at the University of Birmingham with help from Amey plc, the Oxford-based engineering consultancy and infrastructure support specialists.

Lee Chapman, Professor of Climate Resilience in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, explained, “Our sensors are an order of magnitude cheaper than existing solutions, and light enough to be mounted on any lamp post, gantry or road sign, which means a dense network of sensors can be rapidly deployed along a road network to provide a highly granular picture of road surface conditions.”

Each of the hand-sized sensors costs a fraction of the £10,000 or so needed to maintain a weather forecasting station like those currently relied on by local authorities to help them make tough decisions on when and where to grit.

Sensor networks

Estimates demonstrate that, by eliminating unnecessary gritting, this new technology could enable savings of between 20 per cent and 50 per cent, which would be equivalent to over £100 million per year in salt taken across the country as a whole.This cost-effective, real-time decision-making approach also has potential to be extended even further, with individual gritting lorries switching their gritters on and off as they go, in response to the data generated by the sensor networks.