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Engineering the road to safer streetlighting


An innovative engineering project could lead to fewer night-time accidents on badly lit roads.

It is developing a revolutionary way of assessing whether roads are equipped with appropriate levels of streetlighting.

The new assessment system is quicker, cheaper and more comprehensive than methods previously used. It can also help local authorities avoid the cost of unnecessary streetlight replacement.

The project is being carried out by engineers at Queen’s University Belfast with funding from the Swindon-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The system incorporates automated techniques that the project team has already tested and used to assess the landing lights at Belfast International Airport.

Digital video cameras, light filters and light meters are fitted onto the roof of a car, which is then driven at normal speed down the stretch of road under investigation. Meanwhile, the global positioning system gives the car’s precise location and sensors provide information about the road’s contours. An on-board computer captures all the data, which is later processed in a laboratory. The data can then be used to aid decisions about whether any roads, or sections of road, need better lighting to make them safer for both motorists and pedestrians.

The project team, which is working closely with the Highways Agency and with local authorities, is led by Dr Gordon Dodds of the University’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering School. Innovative imaging projects being undertaken at the School are also permitting analysis of all forms of lighting used in traffic signalling, as well as the interaction of robots equipped with vision in complex environments.

There are three main measures of lighting: luminance (light that is reflected from objects), illuminance (light that is shone onto objects), and glare (the amount of light that shields the objects we are trying to see). The new assessment system is the first of its kind that can measure all of these on complex streets. It is particularly well suited to measuring light along roads with twists, turns and gradients.

“The aim is to provide a reliable assessment technique that enables streetlighting resources to be applied in the most effective and beneficial way,” says Dr Dodds. “For us, the new system represents the culmination of seven years’ work”.

Jane Reck | alfa

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