Smart and Safe on Rural Roads and Railway Bridges

WaveReach has designed innovative technology to apply the Internet of Things to monitor and improve the safety of roads and railway bridges.

While investment is going towards improving some city and urban roads, rural roads are being left behind. City and urban roads make up 12.7% of the road infrastructure in the UK, meaning that 87.3% go through less populated areas, a total of around 214,500 miles which in the main are not covered by any sensor or monitoring systems. Monitoring the conditions of road and rail bridges is vital to the safety of trains, cars and road users.WaveReach

There are hundreds of railway bridges and a significant number of viaducts, many which span roads. If a vehicle impacts a railway bridge or viaduct in the rural area, there needs to be a way for engineers to quickly determine if the damage is serious enough for them to take emergency action such as stopping rail traffic and closing the road.

Road bridges in the rural environment are often subjected to overloads and impacts. Heavy vehicle drivers may ignore weight restriction notices or be directed by SatNav to bridges inadequate for their weight. The damage resulting from these events can mean bridge closures for weeks or even months, leading to long detours, frustrated drivers and in some cases, loss of business income and a heavy financial burden to the taxpayer.
When bridges have been overloaded or hit by vehicles, they may become unsafe. Engineers can visit and assess the condition of the bridge, but they do not have access to meaningful real-time data to analyse how these incidents may affect the short and long-term safety of the structure. WaveReach has come up with a solution which combines cameras, sensors, real-time data and analytics to alert engineers when there has been an incident on a road or railway bridge. This same system can also provide instant information on the effects of flash flooding of river and estuary bridges.

Their IoT devices are designed for low maintenance and benefit from low power consumption, with energy harvesting devices making up for the lack of mains power supplies in remote and rural areas.

Focusing on standards that ensure the systems are robust, secure and capable of integration, WaveReach systems are communications agnostic, enabling them to function where there are few or no existing backhaul technologies such as mobile networks. Large rural areas of the UK suffer from little or no cellular coverage, so 3G, 4G, LTE and even narrow-band cellular may not be a viable option – instead WaveReach use whitespace (TVWS), long-range Wi-Fi, low energy Bluetooth, Sigfox and other protocols to cover the rural UK.

Progress so far

WaveReach was recently awarded technical and business support by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre. At Sci-Tech Daresbury they conducted a campus-wide proof of concept of their IoT devices and innovative smart security system.

Over a three-month period, the system was trialled on a self-contained network of sensors at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory where the Hartree Centre is located. This enabled testing multiple methods of gathering, processing and presenting data along with geomapping and data visualisation to determine the most effective solution. They also tested their Artificial Intelligence (AI) security agents to make them more robust – a vital step since WaveReach sees IoT system security as a key competitive differentiator and a focal point for further specialisation.

Working with STFC Hartree Centre allowed WaveReach to quickly develop their system, cutting development time by six months.

Moving forward

WaveReach is currently completing a funded project for a large UK central government agency. As this finishes, they are seeking to work with local councils who will already know where the high-risk bridges are in their areas that can benefit for this monitoring system.As a micro-organisation, WaveReach is seeking further investment to scale up as they prepare to receive orders for their systems from around the UK.

Expert view

Monitoring the condition of bridges in rural areas is crucial to safeguard road users and rail operators across the country. With numerous bridges under greater strain, many with ageing construction and subject to increasingly heavy traffic, it is important that they are kept in the best condition possible. WaveReach’s low power consumption devices and energy harvesting technologies means that their solutions are easy to maintain and support the work of transport infrastructure engineers and planners.

Idris Jahn, Principal Consultant, IoTUK, Digital Catapult

IoTUK Staff

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