A spinout company from Heriot-Watt University is using smart sensor technology to help spread salt on the roads more efficiently.
MicroSense Technologies Ltd (MTL) has developed a state-of-the-art sensing system designed to ensure an equal spread of grit across road surfaces. The device, which is around the size of a mobile phone, can be fitted to a gritter and uses advanced data analysis and bespoke radar sensing to detect how much de-icer salt is already on the road.
This information is then fed to an on-board computer, allowing the vehicle to automatically adjust the amount of grit required. It also records the condition of the road surface, to check for signs of wear and tear.
“At present, when gritters spread salt over multiple days, no account is taken as to how much de-icer salt is left on the road,” explained MTL co-founder Professor David Flynn.
The new system is an “affordable and robust means of assessing the road surface conditions” and accurately determining how much salt, if any, a stretch of road needs, Professor Flynn said.
“This holds obvious advantages to local authorities but also to road users, helping ensure conditions are as safe as they possibly can be. In addition, during our preliminary trials we have also discovered that through subtle adaptations of our system we can actually scan the internal road condition. This ability to evaluate the tarmac allows us to identify early signs of pothole formation before they start.”
Last year 122,000 tonnes of salt and grit were spread on Scotland’s main roads and motorways, according to BBC News.
Across the UK, the cost of gritting motorways and main roads in the winter months adds up to around £150m a year.
It’s hoped that the new sensing system could help reduce the amount of salt being spread on the roads – cutting costs as well as reducing the amount of salt that ends up in watercourses.
The technology could be installed onto gritters and highway maintenance vehicles within the next few months.