Through our competitions, we unlock the knowledge to transform our road network in the future.
We run targeted research and innovation competitions to help us solve some of our challenges.
We'll publish details of current competitions on this page. If you think you have a potential solution, we welcome your application.
National Highways Hazard Protection on Roads Accelerator
We’re working with Connected Places Catapult to launch a new innovation competition to help protect road users by better managing hazards on the country’s motorways and major A-roads.
We’re targeting small or medium enterprises that may not have worked with us before and could have as yet undiscovered innovation gems to share with us around improving hazard protection.
Your entry could offer a completely novel approach to the issue, apply existing technologies in new areas or develop new technologies for existing areas. The innovations must fall within one of the following categories:
- Gathering data about hazards on roads – technologies which contribute to identifying and gathering data on hazards such as CCTV data, analytics, satellite and in-car data including GPS and vehicle sensors.
- Streamlining hazard responses – helping to respond quickly and accurately to any identified hazard, solutions could include automatically alerting drivers, automated responses and clean-up of hazards and notifying professionals such as traffic officers.
- Improving driver notification of hazards – better notification to drivers when a hazard is identified or, for planned roadworks, making sure drivers are aware and know how to safely navigate.
- Improving testing of hazard detection technology – this aims to assess the real-world performance of any technology, enabling smoother software updates and also to generate datasets on hazard detection performance.
- Influencing drivers to reduce unsafe behaviour – we want to identify and accelerate any innovations which could reduce unsafe driving behaviour such as using mobile phones or stopping unnecessarily on motorways.
What’s on offer
Judges will select up to 10 finalists to take their designs forward with funding of £15,000 to £30,000 to develop their ideas.
The submissions will then be whittled down to five and those projects awarded up to £60,000 to deliver their trials over a five-month period.
All 10 finalists will be guided through a bespoke programme tailored to their requirements offering coaching and mentoring, business development opportunities, and technical and procurement support.
The competition is open to small- or medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 250 employees.
How to get involved
Visit the Connected Places Catapult website to apply for the competition. You can also sign up to join an application support webinar taking place on 21 November 2023, from 2pm to 3.30pm
Applicants have until midnight 31 December 2023 to submit their ideas.
For more information contact:
Finding pioneering ways to take care of bridges
We looked to revolutionise the way we take care of bridges and other structures by hunting out new and innovative ways that would spot potential defects sooner.
Research had been helping us in the ambitious journey towards self-monitoring and self-maintaining bridges with cutting-edge technology and modern methods being sought out for testing.
One of the greatest threats to bridges and structures on our road network is the corrosion of steel elements which are often encased in concrete.
This research project, Structures Moonshot, focused on two specific features in particular, the steel tendons in post-tensioned structures and reinforcement within concrete half-joints – a ‘shelf’ constructed at the end of one span to support the adjacent span.
These features can be vulnerable to deterioration but are difficult to access and often require intrusive investigations to assess the condition. This can require lane or road closures causing disruption for motorists.
We wanted to find solutions that could detect defects sooner and resolved the issues in a less disruptive and a non-destructive way and so we launched a competition as part of the project to find new innovations and technology.
The project was taken forward by Atkins-Jacobs Joint Venture (AJJV) which carried out extensive testing and research to identify the most suitable technologies for conducting advanced forms of Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) on structures.
What was on offer for successful entrants
Successful entrants would be given a rare opportunity to carry out some real-world testing of their products on sample bridge sections taken from the decommissioned A14 Huntingdon Railway Viaduct. This would provide a platform to showcase their products to us and the wider industry before the sample is demolished which would allow participants to validate their results.
The outcomes of the testing would enable participants to optimise the effectiveness and applicability of their solutions. The results would also be published to enable collaboration and shared learning across the construction industry.
The competition closed on 4 August 2023.
Accelerating Low Carbon Innovation Programme
We worked in partnership with Connected Places Catapult to launch a brand-new programme with the objective to accelerate innovative solutions for net zero carbon maintenance and construction.
Aligned with the UK’s overall net-zero strategy, we aim to make the road network net-zero by 2050. Most relevant for this programme, it aims to have its maintenance and construction emissions net-zero by 2040. We hosted an open competition to attract new ideas that we haven’t yet trialled, tested or even thought of ourselves.
We offered funding to innovators for the development of novel solutions that could make a real difference to how highways are built and maintained.
About the Programme
The National Highways Accelerating Low Carbon Innovation Programme involves two phases. It will support innovative concepts that accelerate the transition to net zero in the maintenance and construction of the strategic road network.
- Bespoke business support to 10 disruptive SMEs
- Accelerate investment readiness and develop investment strategies
- Focus on facilitating discussions that lead to commercial contracts
- Support collaborative Research & Development - where appropriate/applicable
- Agile sprints and technical focused sessions to develop technologies and meet challenge requirements
- Support the implementation of potential trials with programme partners
- Support development of Full Time Employees
Competition winners would receive:
- Coaching and Mentoring -Including pitch coaching, business support, marketing strategy and investment support
- Trial Support -Trial design training, deployment support, trial monitoring and evaluation
- Solution Showcase -Demonstration day to investors, industry and potential customers
- Growth Focus - 10 months tailored business support.
- Funding Opportunities -The opportunity to access up to £30K in funding for developing a trial proposal and up to £80K for trialling in a live environment.
- Technical Support -Technical support and access to technical experts
- Business Development -Business development opportunities and introduction to potential customers
The competition closed on 30 April 2023.
Successful firms announced!
The successful firms to reach the final stage of the programme are:
Low Carbon Materials Limited (LCM), Seaham – delivering a carbon negative aggregate for use in carbon neutral asphalt.
PRG (Scotland) Limited, Hamilton – to produce a bitumen-like substance which would be useful for road construction and repairs.
Circular11 Ltd, Christchurch, Dorset - to provide highly durable, maintenance-free fencing material that turns mixed low-grade plastic into low-carbon infrastructure, and which will be collected and recycled at end-of-life.
Asset International Structures, Cwmbran - to develop smart fibre reinforced plastic bridge beams that incorporate a novel optical fibre, enabling structural performance monitoring in real time and over long term.
Seven firms were initially awarded up to £30,000 to produce plans for their ideas and of these, the four will now get to trial their ideas. The aim is to find innovative solutions for net zero carbon maintenance and construction in an exciting programme worth £1.7m overall.
Finding a new design for highway gantries
We were looking for design ideas for the gantries which give drivers the information they need when using the strategic road network.
The competition, being run on our behalf by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), was open to all architects and architect-led teams. We were keen to hear from those who are capable and experienced in designing such structures and working alongside structural engineers.
The winning entry, created by Useful Studio, was chosen for its elegance and simplicity, and how cohesive the design concept was across a range of different structures.
Useful Studio will work with us to develop their design concept, with a view to it becoming the standard design for new roads and major upgrades from around two years’ time. The completion of this milestone is subject to internal assurance.
Millions of drivers see gantries every day when they’re out on the roads – and probably don’t give them much thought. However, they’re vital to providing safe and reliable journeys.
Existing designs tend to be heavily engineered, with an emphasis on function over form. We were looking for a more streamlined, elegant and consistent appearance, and designs that are efficient to build and maintain, while reducing environmental impact and minimising carbon.
The competition was part of our good design initiative, which sets out 10 principles for helping road projects achieve a higher quality of life, greater economic vitality and a more efficient use of resources. It was funded by our designated fund for innovation and modernisation.
The winner of this competition has now been revealed and will work with us to develop their idea.
"Through this competition we hope to find solutions that we haven’t yet trialled, tested or even thought of ourselves that will make a difference for road users, communities and businesses impacted by works. The brief is deliberately wide because we want people to come to us with a whole range of ideas"National Highways Executive Director of Major Projects, Nicola Bell