There is something going on at the junction Köln Ost of the A3 motorway in Germany’s Northrhine-Westphalia region. In passing, it looked for a while like yet more of those unfortunate roadworks which keep annoying us motorists when we try to get from A to B across Germany’s aging road infrastructure. A closer look, however, reveals that there is something really exciting happening in this area.
Every day, over 200,000 vehicles pass the test site of the Federal Highway Research Institute BASt (Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen) – the German government’s practice-orientated and technical research body in the field of road engineering. The focus is on the testing of an early warning system which reports anomalies in road transport infrastructure. The aim is to prevent serious damage to road traffic caused by construction sites.
Unique in the world and designed for a service life of 30 years, the site at junction Köln Ost was officially opened in October 2017 and encompasses a demonstration, investigation and reference area in which our future global road infrastructure is being tested and evaluated. Deutsche Telekom takes part in this test facility and joins a host of engineers and researchers, all in the pursuit of one common goal: to adapt Germany’s road infrastructure to tomorrow’s traffic requirements, tackling the rise in freight traffic and added congestion across the country.
The research facility, called duraBASt, operates parallel to the A3 motorway The site covers an area of about 25,000 square meters and is one kilometer long. Different bridge structures, tunnel-like constructions, noise barriers, drainage installations, as well as open road sections have been built on it and the entire construct now represents an extensive miniature model of today’s road traffic infrastructure and environment.
Deutsche Telekom contributes its resources and innovative prowess to the so-called Smart Bridge on the site. This pioneering infrastructure project being tested at duraBASt is a sensor-based, modular system which records, monitors and evaluates relevant information about changes to impact and resistance in near real time. Deutsche Telekom is participating in this project with German partner BS2 Sicherheitssysteme, who have developed a RFID and NB-IoT-based digital monitoring solution for bridges, tunnels, buildings and other infrastructure objects made of concrete.
Up to 50 sensors in such a construction early-warning system are directly built into the road surface and edge beams of the bridge. They measure temperature, humidity and corrosion which are the critical factors that can cause irreparable damage or the need for major maintenance to the reinforcement steel in these concrete structures. The sensors can be installed in both new structures and retrofitted in existing ones – and, as they have no batteries, they can last up to 70 years. The data captured from the various sensors is read and transmitted via Deutsche Telekom’s NB-IoT network to a backend where it is then analyzed and displayed. This process is used to regularly and remotely assess the condition of the bridge without restricting traffic or having to send a resource specifically to site to take a reading.
Benefits for motorists, Government and the tax payer
The BASt team’s main focus is the durability of the road infrastructure. That means finding innovative solutions which help the layers of the various structures, from motorways to tunnels and bridges, to last longer. The sensors in the Smart Bridge, for example, can pick up the warning signs long before they can be seen, thus making it, and indeed all structures monitored in this way smarter, safer and more sustainable, reducing damage and minimizing repair work and costs.
This is welcome news to the Government, which needs to spend less of the tax payers’ money to invest in the maintenance of Germany’s road infrastructure. It is welcome news also to us motorists who will hopefully see less roadworks when we travel on Germany’s roads in the years ahead. So, next time you pass the Köln Ost junction, be aware that road-tested innovative solutions will soon be bridging the gaps in Germany’s road infrastructure.