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New year, new you? How can we challenge the status quo in ourselves?

It is still acknowledged that inductive loops are the tried and tested industry mainstay when it comes to vehicle detection and stubbornly remain the ‘go to’ solution for urban signal detection systems, and on the new smart motorway network.

Which is all well and good, but in this day and age when innovative technology is constantly changing the way we all work and travel, why is it we are so stuck in our ways of using existing ideas such as inductive loops for in-road detection?

Of course, inductive loops still have their uses in certain circumstances but there are now serious alternatives to consider, whether that is for monitoring data counts, motorway incident detection and automatic signaling (MIDAS), wrong way slip warningsramp metering or for good old traffic signals.

In previous blogs we explored how magnetometers are challenging the use of inductive loops in both MIDAS and urban traffic signal worlds and we recognise that radar is in use on some of the new smart motorways, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully (read the case study).

Each alternative solution for vehicle detection has its pros and cons and environmental situations will play a large part in selecting what is put in place. But when thinking about this subject it occurred to us that it’s not just the credibility of the technology that stops us adopting new ideas. We all have a personal part to play when considering new ways of working.

So, what should we be aware of in ourselves when considering new ideas and solutions?

Safety versus the fear of the unknown

Of course, safety must be of paramount importance for road users and to install solutions that can easily fail or prove to be dangerous to either drivers or road workers is going to be a non-starter. But perhaps it is too easy to use this safety concern as a reason to hide a fear of the new or unknown technology.

Why not be the person that invites new ideas into the thinking and takes a small amount of time to assess them for what they are worth rather than dismissing without consideration? Most ITS companies will have tested their concepts rigorously prior to launching them to market so to ask for test results as part of your consideration should not phase most suppliers.

Assess, test and approve

Of course, new ideas need to be proven in road conditions, be resilient and provide value for money, but this shouldn’t mean that you must be a late adopter and wait for years before trying it out. Could you be the person or team that takes on a new idea and tests it against expectations? This needn’t be a costly punt in the dark. Most new ideas will come from companies experienced in the industry and you can assess their credentials and thoughts before any investment is made.

Working in a collaborative way with your supplier base can also provide a more open way of assessing a solution against jointly agreed criteria. And don’t forget, funding may also be available if the idea warrants some more time, development or testing.

What’s the ROI?

We can all recognise that local authority budgets are very tight, and Highways England have made it clear that any investment in the strategic road network should provide resilient solutions. So, this means any new solutions you consider should factor in ROI calculations that are across several years and include reducing installation costs, future maintenance considerations and lessening the inconvenience to actual road users. Knowing the ROI on a new idea can help influence the strategic decision to invest in different types of technology.

To help along these lines, in 2019 Highways England published a guide to Efficiency Levers. This included ROI calculations on our SolarLite studs (for high specification road studs) and M100 magnetometers (under traffic detection systems).

Plan to mitigate the risks

Along with assessing new ideas against set criteria, it is quite normal to have in place a plan for the installation and commissioning of a new (or old) solution. But, do you also plan in case of failure? Having a fall back plan should not be seen as negative thinking but as a pragmatic approach to adopting a new idea. Perhaps it is possible for you to build into your plans a fall back solution, such as parallel running of the old solution for six months, that both provides a comparative check on performance and a re-assurance whilst adopting a new way of working?

Breaking the mould to innovate

Just because it’s always been done in a certain way doesn’t mean it should continue in the same way forever. Why not build into your planning time a small amount of reflection to help recognise when considerations on how to build a new scheme or replace existing road infrastructure are simply a swop of like for like ideas. Are you aware of other or new solutions that may do the same job? Have you been to any recent seminars or conferences that can give you new ideas and thinking? Or are you open to a meeting with new suppliers and to listen to their ideas?

The above thoughts are not meant to be critical of existing ways of operating or how schemes are currently installed across the highways industry – far from it. But times are changing, and new technology and ideas are becoming more and more available and it is beholden to us all to explore new ways of solving the UK’s road challenges efficiently and effectively.

So why not embrace the situation and make sure you personally are as prepared as possible to be at the forefront of these changes?

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