SANRAL unveils Technical Innovation Hub

In rising to the challenge of rapidly evolving Smart Road Technologies and global innovation, South Africa's national roads agency SANRAL has established the Technical Innovation Hub (TIH) which is driven from the Western Region Office in Cape Town.

Although not a physical space, the TIH can be likened to a think tank of young intellectuals, mentored by senior professional engineers, and inspired by 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. 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.

Introducing the TIH to industry, creates a platform for graduate engineers to showcase some of the innovation-focused pilot projects that are in the development phase at the TIH. The projects include 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 presentations include:

  • video analytics  for vehicle inspection and pedestrian detection
  • drones for engineering applications
  • floating car data
  • road sensors
  • electrical and automated vehicles
  • alternative materials, i.e. nanotechnologies
  • augmented / virtual reality

“I cannot overstate the importance and relevance of credible research, in the work we do. 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 solution 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,” said Kobus van der Walt who heads up SANRAL’s TIH.

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 component 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 we apply technology in saving lives. The technology already exists - SANRAL is now well positioned to embrace it to the benefit of all road users.

In addition, the SANRAL Technical Excellence Academy (TEA), which is housed in Port Elizabeth and is also headed up by Kobus van der Walt, provides dedicated mentorship and practical training in road and bridge design for graduate candidate engineers, who are SANRAL bursary students.

“Key to SANRAL’s sustainable future is the development of the next generation of civil engineers, but more specifically, the creation of a leadership reserve. Our history is built on a substantial investment into research and education. We are committed to nurture a pool of talent through mentoring and training, and maintain our plans to attract and retain talent,” concludedvan der Walt.

SANRAL remains committed to the development of South Africa’s knowledge economy and will continue to invest in research and education to unlock the potential that lies within the road construction industry, as a key driver of economic development in our country.

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