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Innovation hub established by SANRAL
30 April 2019, News

A Technical Innovation Hub (TIH) has been established by SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency) to address the challenge of rapidly evolving smart road technologies and global innovation.

Driven from its office in Cape Town, the TIH is not a physical space but rather a think tank of young intellectuals, mentored by senior professional engineers, and embracing the possibilities that exist when technology is harnessed to improve lives and promote progressive development in transport.

Smart technology and the road user can no longer be separate concepts, according to a statement from SANRAL. “The road user harnesses smart technology on their devices, in their vehicles, in their offices and homes. It therefore stands to reason that this technology should be integrated into the travel experience during our everyday commutes. This is ultimately where the world is headed and South Africa should be no different.”

The new innovation hub is a platform for graduate engineers to showcase some of the pilot projects that are in development, including the use of a robotic flagger at road construction sites, intelligent road studs to provide additional guidance to the road user, and the planned use of 3D road markings.

Other projects include video analytics for vehicle inspection and pedestrian detection, drones for engineering applications, floating car data, road sensors, electric and automated vehicles, alternative materials (nanotechnologies) and augmented/virtual reality.

“I cannot overstate the importance and relevance of credible research in the work we do,” stated Kobus van der Walt, who heads up the TIH. “A clear and direct strategy is needed to ensure economic growth in our industry and our research can be used to inform this strategy.

“We furthermore want to create solutions that directly speak to the needs of the road user. For too long engineers have created transport solutions which they think will serve the needs of the public at large. Our approach is to stay engaged with road users at all levels, and through research and partnerships, we aim to create an engaging environment where the road user has a vested interest in getting the best use out of our national road network.”

While advancement in road user technology seems predominantly geared at motorists, it is important to note that in South Africa, pedestrians make up a massive proportion of road users. Therein lies a major driver of road safety through the use of technology.

Engineers with post-graduate studies in research topics relevant to transportation technology advancements, such as automated pedestrian detection and drone applications, play a major role in how technology can be applied in saving lives.

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