One of Highways England’s prototype automated cone laying vehicles has taken to the road network for the first time after successfully completing extensive off-road testing.
The government-owned company said the vehicles, which it has developed in collaboration with industry experts, could be in use by the end of the year.
The will be operated solely by the driver, avoiding the need for two people to manually lift and drop the cones.
Two vehicles have been developed. One, developed by King Highway Products, is currently undergoing testing in Holland and will shortly be trialled off-road in the UK, Highways England said.
The other, created by Highway Care, is being trialled on the strategic road network. It has been putting out traffic management on both the A5 and M54 in Shropshire and further testing is set to take place on the M4 in Berkshire.
Highways England’s head of lean and continuous improvement, Martin Bolt, who oversees the project, said: ‘The implications of these vehicles in protecting the safety of workers are immense and we are delighted that testing is progressing so well. By taking the human element out of laying cones we are eliminating one of the greatest risks for road workers.
‘We have received a lot of support from the industry as a whole for the automated vehicle and we are now getting some very positive feedback from those workers who have been trialling the Highway Care prototype on the live roads network.
‘If this testing proves as successful as we anticipate it will, motorists could be spotting more of these automated cone laying vehicles on the roads by the end of the year.’
Kier general foreman Stuart Pegg, who used the vehicle to put out traffic management on the A5, said: ‘It was great to be invited to participate in this groundbreaking advancement in traffic management. We have ironed out a few initial teething problems and I found the automated cone laying vehicle easy to use. It performed above my personal expectations.’
Highways England is funding the development and establishing a minimum standard while the companies themselves are developing the vehicles.
It said its criteria stipulate that not only must the machines offer a safer method for highways workers, they must be safe for all road users and pose no further risk to traffic.
The vehicles must also be able to lay or collect at least 400 cones at a rate of one every 10 seconds
If the tests prove successful the two companies will be able to take their vehicles to the marketplace, Highways England said.