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Maintaining integrity, performance and safety of the road infrastructure through autonomous robotized solutions and modularization

  

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InfraROB is an European Union’s Horizon 2020 funded project (09/2021 – 02/2025) which aims to reduce workers’ exposure to live traffic and construction machines, increase the availability of the transport network, reduce the cost of repetitive tasks, and increase the safety of road users by promoting significant advances in automating, robotising and modularizing the construction, upgrade and maintenance of the road infrastructure.

 Road infrastructure has a fundamental role in the social as well as economic development of individual European countries and of Europe as a whole, considering that road transport is the most widely used mode of inland passenger transport in most European countries today, strongly contributing to ensure the flow of people but also of goods across the EU. Thus, proper road infrastructure management is essential for both economic growth and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Besides this intangible component of infrastructure value, moreover, the main value of road infrastructure lies in network capacity, which needs to be ensured through assets’ maintenance, and, upon necessity, expanded through new construction and upgrading. Road infrastructure maintenance is therefore of great importance and, alongside maintenance works, special emphasis must be put on work zone safety. Even though much has been done by the EC to improve safety of road users, the need to improve safety of both construction workers and road users in relation to work zone areas remains a priority, as on a country-based average, 4% of accidents take place in work zones. Workers engaged in roadworks are exposed to significant risk, whereas, many repetitive construction or maintenance tasks could be replaced by robotized systems. Yet, even if robotics has reached significant technological maturity and thus implementation levels in many industrial sectors, it has not reached the same implementation levels in road infrastructure management. A coordinated effort at the European level is therefore needed to boost the introduction of automation, robotics and greater modularization in this field.

Within this framework, the mission of InfraROB is to reduce workers’ exposure to live traffic as well as construction machines, reduce the cost of repetitive tasks, and increase the safety of road users, while increasing the availability of the transport network. To this end, the project promotes significant advances in automating, robotising and modularizing the construction, upgrade and maintenance of the road infrastructure with focus on roadbed and pavement. Pavement is probably the most representative and critical element of roads. Even if other ‘discrete’ engineering structures like bridges or tunnels are even so important, pavement is the fundamental ‘continuous’ engineering structure that has the duty to carry the whole road traffic throughout kilometres of road infrastructure. Depending on a country’s landscape and related network complexity (the highest for mountainous landscapes), the incidence of tunnels and bridges over the total length of main roads varies significantly from country to country across Europe, making up between 1% (in countries with flat landscape) and 27% (in countries with mountainous landscape like Switzerland) of the total length of Europe’s main roads, while the pavement runs for the whole length of a road, and its conditions certainly influence road users’ safety.

By focussing on roadbed and pavement, and particularly on roads paved with asphalt (the most widely applied type of pavement in Europe, accounting for 90% of all paved roads and highways), the project will develop autonomous robotized systems/machinery for (i) (re)paving, (ii) repairing cracks/potholes in the road surface, and (iii) line marking. In addition, it will develop (iv) collaborative robotized safety systems (i.e. collaborative robotized safety cones and RPAS  (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) robots) to ensure safety of workers and road users. It will then also develop (v) an all-in-one multi-functional precast concrete element applicable as roadside safety barrier and as road construction element at the same time, serving a major degree of modularization in road design and construction/upgrade. In order to cope with safer operations and maintenance, the project will furthermore upgrade existing traffic management systems as well as maintenance management systems so as to provide for the safe and coordinated deployment of automated road maintenance robots.