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Commercial and economic impact has been achieved via the development of an innovative sensing product based on the Internet of Things (IoT). The product has been used to transform winter road maintenance decision-making across the UK and northern Europe. 



Gritting roads is a critical activity in winter to keep traffic flowing. It costs the UK £150 million a year to keep the roads snow and ice free, resulting in estimated savings of £2 billion each year. Despite this cost/benefit, millions of pounds are wasted each year by treating roads that would not actually have frozen. Prior to this research, no cost-effective technique existed to monitor road conditions at the high spatial and temporal resolution demanded.



Geographers at the University of Birmingham developed an Internet of Things road surface temperature sensor, "wintersense". Key innovations included the use of thermopiles (non-contact) to allow mounting on lighting columns, therefore removing the need to dig up the road. They also utilised emerging Low Power Wide Area Networks for communications and implemented power saving features.

These innovations meant that sensors could be deployed at a significantly lower cost compared to existing method, providing the means to sense ‘at scale’ on the road network. A new business was created to enable the commercial exploitation of the ‘wintersense’ road surface temperature sensor.



Networks of sensors have been procured from the University of Birmingham by over 20 UK local authorities and road agencies, with sensors also deployed in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

Wintersense networks have improved road safety for millions of road users. Analysis by Wigan Council (population of 320,000) of the benefits of their 27-sensor network indicated a return on investment within half a normal winter season. The approach has enabled sensors to be deployed at locations where gritting operations are needed, but monitoring was previously difficult.

The university start-up then grew significantly, generating year-on-year revenue growth. Industrial collaborations extended beyond local authorities, with several street lighting companies offering wintersense as an additional feature to their clients.

The sensing technology has also contributed to the development of new products for the railway market, ‘autumnsense’, primarily to help the industry with the perennial ‘leaves on the line’ problem. For example, 30 moisture sensors have been used by Network Rail on the cross-city line in Birmingham to help them attain their goal of running normal levels of service rather than running a reduced service autumn timetable.


More information

Institution: University of Birmingham

Researchers: Professor Lee Chapman, Professor John Thornes, Dr Simon Bell

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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Transforming decision making in winter road maintenance using low-cost environmental sensor networks. Available at  Last accessed on: <date>