So-called ‘intelligent’ street lights could soon be lining (and lighting) the UK’s major routes, after a trial near Birmingham proved successful. The organisation in charge of the strategic road network says new lights could enable existing infrastructure to provide information on traffic conditions, speed limits and diversions.

With the arrival of 5G connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT), of which connected cars are a part, National Highways says lighting could be equipped with cameras and “wireless access points”. To prove the capability of such technology, a proof-of-concept trial for this ‘intelligent’ lighting system took place over five months last year.

Subtly hidden inside new, more energy-efficient LED lighting, the ‘Illuminate’ trial took place on the M40 motorway’s Longbridge roundabout at junction 15. The technology proved capable of communicating data to office equipment and tablet computers, and the success of the trial will now “shape” National Highways’ plans for managing infrastructure for connected and autonomous vehicles.

M6 motorway heading towards Manchester

The organisation claims it is constantly looking for “technologies that can effectively support autonomous vehicles”, in the hope they will carry messages across the network. These messages, which could include information about speed limits and incidents, to help drivers plan their journeys.

National Highways’ innovations lead for the Midlands, Lisa Maric, said the technology could make a huge difference to the way in which drivers use roads in the UK.

“These are exciting times as we progress on our digital roads journey with the growth of digital technology and the move to electric, connected and autonomous vehicles that will fundamentally change how we use roads in the future,” she said. “National Highways is committed to ensuring we are at the forefront of this digital revolution and are preparing the way for the greener and safer roads of tomorrow.

Traffic lights in the centre of London at night

“Initial trials such as Illuminate will help us identify new innovations, technology and methods to meet our digital goals. We were pleased with how Illuminate performed as a proof of concept and the useful knowledge gained as we continue to plan for the roads of the future.”

Meanwhile Carla Vicente, project manager at contractor Kier, which worked with National Highways on the Illuminate trial, said the technology could be installed during normal improvements and would help deliver other projects.

“Being able to install technology, such as CCTV, while we are replacing street lighting is a more efficient way of working and provides better value for customers,” she said. “More importantly, it is a safer and less disruptive way of working, reducing the amount of road closures required. This proof of concept will feed into other future projects and the learnings will help to deliver more collaborative and sustainable projects which supports National Highways’ Carbon Net Zero targets.”