Altasense

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Our research has helped to improve decision making in the Winter Road Maintenance sector by deploying dense networks of low-cost sensors that are being used by highway departments across the UK and northern Europe. The sensors are transforming practice in terms of risk management and improving winter maintenance public service delivery to the benefit of organisations and the general public. The implementation of these sensors has provided both commercial and policy impact to the sector.

 

Video: 60 Seconds with Lee Chapman 

60 Seconds with Lee Chapman

Dr Lee Chapman's research interests are at the interface of climatology and engineering investigating the impact of weather and climate on the built environment; an important research area given the ever-increasing concentration (and vulnerability) of the population and critical infrastructure in urban areas.

 Key researchers

 

About the project

We are working with industry to improve decision making in the Winter Road Maintenance sector by installing networks of low-cost sensors to highway departments across the UK and northern Europe. These sensors are transforming road maintenance practice in terms of risk management and improving  public service delivery - benefiting both the organisations involved and helping to keep the public moving.

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Background

Route based forecasting takes into account how the local geography interacts with the regional climate to produce a detailed model of road surface conditions for every 50m section of road. By knowing which sections of road are likely to fall below the 0°C threshold on a night-by-night basis, highway engineers can selectively treat just the affected routes and make significant savings in salt usage.  Since 2006, this forecasting technology has been used by private weather companies around the world. 

Following the commercialisation of the original approach, one weather company funded a University of Birmingham research programme to further refine and improve the idea. One of the key findings was the present inability to verify forecasts at the spatial and temporal resolution provided by the forecast. This was often a major issue in convincing the user base to fully utilise the benefits of Route Based Forecasting (i.e. selective salting where the gritting spread rate is controlled by the forecast). 

This use of low-cost sensing technology aligned perfectly with the growing Smart City / Internet of Things (IoT) research agenda. The key innovation was the self-contained nature of the device, based on a non-contact thermopile, needing just a small battery for power and communicating via the latest generation of IoT networks. These innovations, combined with the ease of installation (i.e. no need to dig up roads) meant that the sensors could be produced and deployed much more  cheaply than traditional alternatives. It meant, that for the first time, affordable observations could be made to complement high resolution forecasts, unlocking the economic benefits of Route Based Forecasting.  

Recognitions and Impact

The low-cost sensor network approach is now well accepted by the winter road maintenance industry as having a large influence on professional practice.  

The research has won two scholarly awards (RMetS Innovation Award, 2014; The Harry Otten Prize for Innovation in Meteorology, 2017 - Presented by the European Meteorological Society.

 

Contact

Telephone:
+44(0)121 414 7435
Twitter:
@GeogBham

 

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