Highways UK – Day 1 of 2



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It’s difficult to know where to start when describing the layout and approach to this critical event in the Transportation calendar. There are so many conferences and activities taking place it is more like a festival and planning your day requires careful consideration. A task that sobriety makes far far easier.

First things first and the events themselves require a fee paying ticket, however the exhibition area, as in the floorspace that glues the various stages together, is free entry and attendees can still glean a valuable snapshot of the pioneering companies and technologies that are operating in this important realm.

Upon entry, after chatting to Malcolm Norman at TRL and Philip Brown at Graham Construction it was time to attend the opening address, essentially “RIS 1 vs RIS 2” in the plush Jacobs Theatre.

The BBC’s Richard Westcott, master of ceremonies, deftly introduced and steered the session candidly and capably. Which allowed Jim O’Sullivan (Chief Executive, Highways England (HE)) to provide a fast and interesting overview of the RIS 1 lessons learned and how things will be different for RIS 2 - procurement channels and funding streams to name only two.

Anthony Smith (Chief Executive, Transport Focus) illuminated the audience with an overview of the form and function of the Transport Focus group before Richard Coates (Deputy Director, Office of Rail and Road (ORR)) provided an account of their role in monitoring and holding the HE to account. One of many endeavours that O’Sullivan later called out, in terms of the myriad ‘scrutinisory’ organisations that, taken together, add little value to the proceedings overall and merely divert important HE resources.

Alasdair Reisner (Chief Executive, CECA) closed the series by explaining the role of this member organisation in a wry and honest manner that was appreciated by the room. As befits such a knowledgeable panel, a detailed and specific Q&A then followed.

A strong start and with little time to stray it was out the door and straight to the Burges Salmon Stage where Alasdair then detailed the development and culmination of the three part Highways Supplier Guide (sadly not completed in time for the conference, but due online soon). The guide will feature advice and guidance regarding HE strategy and procurement movements, supply chain relationships and motivations as well as key contacts and the like. Each section being suitably expanded in detail and worth keeping an eye on.

Catching the last moments of the Dynniq presentation at the ‘open air’ Costain Intelligent Infrastructure Hub, regarding their Vehicle Emissions Monitor platform I then chatted at length to James Robertson at AgileAssets before catching the bulk of the excellent “Integrating Technology into Ageing Infrastructure” talk in the packed Dynniq Dome. Lorraine Butler (SMP Delivery Director for Operations, Business Improvement and Change, HE) doing a sterling job of outlining the Smart Motorways efficiency strategy, the Rapid Engineering Model and their collaboration with Bryden Wood.

Martin England (Head of Application Services, Balfour Beatty) then gave me a hands on demo of the delightful Hololens, the impressive mixed reality tool that a steady stream of delegates were keen to get their hands on. There is a nack to its use but it is an invaluable aid and one that has been used on several BB projects already (with more to come).

Midday arrived in something of a blink, which was the perfect time to relax for a moment and pay through the nose for lukewarm food.

Back to the Burges Salmon stage and the “Impact of Technology on the Future Strategic Roads Network (SRN)” event, which saw Rob Wallis (CEO, TRL) oversee the panel that featured Mike Wilson (Chief Engineer, HE) James Airbib (Co-founder, Rethinkx) and Jennifer Schooling (Director, Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction). This event was well attended and the impacts and opportunities of new technologies were expertly dissected and discussed.

Heading quickly to the Dynniq Dome to listen to Manish Jethwa (CTO) from Yotta discuss “The Technology Behind Connected Assets” this gave a slick look at the many technological means, myths, problems and phenomena necessary to enable such a reality, before culminating in a look at the attractive Yotta interface and how it leverages the aforementioned items.  Alex Croston then gave me a hands on overview in greater depth at the nearby Yotta stand.

Speaking quickly to Brian Fitzpatrick at Fitzpatrick Advisory there was another moment to explore the exhibitions further and look at the Costain Robocone (not as daft as it sounds) as well as their Enhanced CCTV system (always good to see desktop Linux in the wild). I also used this time to examine the Valerann, Sensat, the Taylor Construct Fuel Cell as well as the Solatainer technology in and around the Intelligent Infrastructure Hub too.

Catching the last half of the “Road Users’ Expectations” event, where Anthony Smith chaired Richard Tilden (Head of Commercial Vehicles, Lex Autolease), Ian Luckett (Director, Lockets Travel) and Tom Usher (UK Business Development Manager, Europcar) business models and the fate of freight and taxis were only two of the many interesting items discussed. I then made it to see Mike Hodgson and Marc Hunter (Sweco) deliver the “Pioneering Technology to Speed Up Route Selection” talk. A superb hands on look at their collaboration with Bentley with regard to the deployment of their Openroads ConceptStation provision to better meet the UK’s needs.

Grabbing a drink whilst chatting to Shona Wooding at Clearview Intelligence and then Fin Farrelly at Clevelend Bridge I rushed to see “A Customer Centric Delivery Model” presentation by Gary Massey (Head of Integrated Services, CH2M) and Samantha Neame (Service Development Manager, East Sussex County Council) at the Carillion theatre. Here the duo presented a real success story of collaboration and the benefits of prioritising end user needs, whilst technologically ‘starting from scratch’ if need be in order to better serve their user demands.

Closing the day for myself was the “Operational Approaches to Improving Air Quality” presentation by Simon Notley (Principal Consultant, Dynniq). An important and timely look at cause, effect and mitigation thanks to a closer look at their ‘dynamic control zone’ case study. A skilful presentation with sensible questions volunteered in the Q&A that were deftly handled. The whole thing leaving me wondering about whether or not to fill my car with NOx absorbing plants, such is the extent of the problem.

So there you go, that was day one and there were at least a dozen other conferences I would have liked to attend, but you can only be in one place at one time. Hopefully the videos, or at least the slides of all of the events will be released.

Did I learn a lot? Undoubtedly so, and we’re only halfway through.

Click here for day 2.