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Road-marking robot adds hard drive to new A14

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Highways England road marking job just got a lot easier!
Highways England road marking job just got a lot easier!

The A14 has seen a different kind of hard drive in action - a clever little robot is marking out where lines need to be drawn on the newly-improved stretch of tarmac on Britain’s biggest road upgrade, the £1.5 billion Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement.

The quirky machine uses precise positioning technology to mark out where white lines need to be painted on new or resurfaced roads, saving drivers hundreds of hours of disruption on the notorious dual carriageway.

Ordinarily, pre-marking road markings is a time-consuming job, calculating the positioning of the markings and walking several miles to spray or chalk them on the road. By using the robot, road workers spend far less time in the road and are at less risk of an accident - around 250 drivers illegally drive into roadworks every month, putting workers’ lives at risk. The robot also boasts improved accuracy and can mark the road faster.

Already hundreds of hours of working time has been saved on projects across the country, including pre-marking eight miles of the M6 in Staffordshire in four hours - this would usually take two engineers more than a week. Elsewhere savings include 27 hours of working time marking three miles of hard shoulder on the M4 in Berkshire, 77 hours covering five miles of the M6 in Warwickshire, and six hours working on two miles of the M1 in Leicestershire, with further work done on the M60 smart motorway at Manchester.

The road marking robot improves accuracy and saves time
The road marking robot improves accuracy and saves time

Julian Lamb, construction director on the A14 where the robot has been used, said: “We’re always looking at innovative new ways of working, which can help road users, and make our projects more efficient while supporting improved engineering. With safety our top priority, the time savings the robot can provide, coupled with removing our operatives from a potentially hazardous situation, make it a great solution.

“We’ve also been working with a self-driving dumper truck on the project, completing trials of these new technologies to help Highways England more deliver its ambitious programme of roads improvement quickly, safely and efficiently. These technologies are also supporting new jobs, with the engineers of tomorrow needing to learn new skills such as programming this autonomous equipment.”

Specialist contractor WJ, who adopted the technology for it to complete the pre-marking, has now invested in a second robot to keep the first company.

Wayne Johnston, WJ group managing director, said: “I am passionate about changing the way we work in this industry and the WJ Robotic PreMarker represents a real step change. However, it is just a starting point, we will continue to invest in research and development to find better, more efficient and safer ways of working.”

The 12-mile Huntingdon Southern Bypass, which makes up around two-thirds of the A14 upgrade, opened a year early, in December. Work on the rest of the project, between Swavesey and Milton, continues and is on schedule to completed as planned by December 2020.

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