Publication - Independent report

Implications of future technological trends on Scotland's infrastructure: independent report

Published: 22 Aug 2019

Overview of the range of technology trends potentially impacting on infrastructure in Scotland and examples of their uses and implications.

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Implications of future technological trends on Scotland's infrastructure: independent report
Impact of Technology on Infrastructure Areas: Transport

50 page PDF

4.0 MB

Impact of Technology on Infrastructure Areas: Transport

New technologies can have an impact on mobility and transport systems within and between cities, and between rural areas and cities. Better connectivity and more efficient solutions can bring positive environmental, social and economic impacts.

Intelligent Transport Systems can drive better connectivity and realise economic impacts

Intelligent Transport System (ITS) refers to a set of technologies and communications used to improve efficiency and safety for transport users. It includes monitoring equipment such as CCTV and traffic detection sensors; speed control and queue management via gantry signals; and informing travellers using Variable Message Signs (VMS), web services, smartphone apps, news feeds, social media and radio broadcasts. It also encompasses the growing field of connected and autonomous vehicles which are expected to have significant benefits for road safety and in transforming how real-time traffic monitoring and analysis can be carried out. ITS contributes to enhanced transport resilience, smoother journeys, quicker reaction to incidents and environmental and economic improvements via more efficient management.

The Traffic Scotland Information Service (TSIS) already provides real-time and planned, future information about the Scottish road network including monitoring, controlling and informing users about Scotland’s trunk roads by levering CCTV cameras, bluetooth detectors, and weigh in motion sites.

5G technology will enable the digital transformation of Scotland’s transport infrastructure. Its ultra low latency network capability (allowing faster, more reliable connectivity and the ability to handle greater amounts of data) will allow for driverless cars, monitoring and potentially reducing taffic congestion, platooning (grouping autonomous vehicles as a method of increasing road capacity) and other applications enabling improved connectivity via roads and public transport. The Wireless Infrastructure Group (WIG) in Scotland is already working with 5G network operators and public bodies to enable superfast connectivity for various uses, including transport. Advanced Sensing will also have a significant impact on transport infrastructure and commuter safety. For example, the £10m Smart Cities Scotland programme is expected to encompass projects such as intelligent street lighting to reduce CO2 emissions and enhance transport management, analysing data collected using sensors to reduce congestion

Edinburgh-based enterprise Wallet.Services, with support from the Scottish Government, is working on a blockchain platform for public transactions, which could be used for transport infrastucture applications.

Blockchain technology can enable automatic and real-time payments in Mobility-as-a-Service concepts, for instance in public transport or parking fees.

Electrification of transport to drive low carbon emissions

Electric Vehicles (EV) can have an important impact on the transport infrastructure as part of a wider decarbonisation agenda. The Scottish Government is already carrying out strategies, with the ambition to facilitate the use of electric vehicles and phase out the need for petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032. This includes the installation of publicly available EV charge points on the ChargePlace Scotland network and developing an ‘Electric A9’, the country’s longest road, with EV charge points installed along the route. The Scottish Government’s most recent assessment of EV uptake in cars and light vans forecasts considerable acceleration of EV sales from around 2022-23, reaching 100% of new vehicle sales by 2032.

Drones and ‘last mile delivery’

Drones are unmanned aircraft controlled by a ground-based remote pilot, with a communications system linking the two. This is collectively referred to as an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). A drone is also sometimes referred to as a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS).

However, as technology progresses, drones are becoming increasingly automated, and may one day become fully autonomous without the need for a remote pilot. Global retail and delivery providers such as Amazon and DHL are already investing substantial sums of money into researching and developing solutions using drones for the delivery of goods to purchasers. Regulatory developments will drive progress in this area. This could change how we understand courier deliveries and emergency medical supplies delivery. Over the longer term, autonomous passenger drones could also be used to transport people between UK cities. Trials of autonomous electric drones have already taken place in Dubai, China and the US.

NHS Highland is working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the University of the Highlands and Islands on a project looking at the potential of using drones to deliver medical supplies to GP surgeries, hospitals and care homes in the Highlands.


Recent developments in the UK and elsewhere also point to the use of hydrogen as an alternative low carbon fuel source. For example Alstom recently announced the introduction of the first hydrogen passenger train in Germany. The emergence of Hybrid Fuel Cells could have a significant impact on Scotland’s decarbonisation plans. Transport Scotland are appraising hydrogen and other self-powered low- carbon alternatives to diesel for some of Scotland’s non-electrified railway routes. In 2013, Scottish Ministers contributed £3.3m funding to a project in Aberdeen deploying a fleet of 10 hydrogen buses with on-site green hydrogen production and a storage system. Aberdeen now also has a second hydrogen station (with a third planned) serving a fleet of vehicles used by the council, NHS and SEPA. Hydrogen fuel cells are also being explored for marine applications. For example, Innovate UK recently provided funding to design a hydrogen-diesel dual fuel injection system on a ferry that travels between Kirkwall and Shapinsay island.

Search and rescue will be transformed by drones and autonomous technologies

Emergency services are increasingly turning to drone technology to help them with their tasks. Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) are now being used operationally by Police Scotland in Aberdeen and Inverness, following a successful pilot, with a particular use in missing persons cases. The deployments allows for faster searches of large areas. British start-up, Unmanned Life, has developed software to send out multiple autonomous drones at the same time to gather information during a crisis, such as when a building is on fire. One drone hovers in the air providing 4G coverage, while another flies around the building providing live video. A third, equipped with heat sensors, creates a heat map of the building, while a fourth uses sonar to map structural damage. The Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team has deployed drones in searches of peaks in its area, one of an increasing number using the technology to support rescue activities. There is also a developing concept of implementing drones into ambulance fleets. This would mean that medical kit could be flown directly to accident locations, which can be a substantial advantage in congested cities.

Improving transport safety

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) can potentially have significant benefits for road safety. This is because transport systems will be more efficiently monitored and managed, enabling quicker responses to accidents. With the emergence of autonomous vehicles, there is also a view that road accidents caused by human error can be substantially reduced. The whole system will be underpinned by Advanced Sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced video technologies.

Smarter, stronger and greener materials

Advanced Materials could have a major impact in achieving the goals of zero carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency in transport. Self-healing concrete could impact on road maintenance, for example, by reducing road damage, while materials like graphene could support completely new structures. Lightweighting transport is another application, where the focus is on reducing weight by using advanced composite and other advanced materials in the body and components of a vehicle without losing strength or durability. This in turn reduces energy consumption and damage to roads. The Lightweight Manufacturing Centre at Strathclyde University is focused on ‘off highway’ transport solutions for vehicles like tractors, four-wheel drive solutions and specialist machinery.

Implications for transport infrastructure investment

  • The delivery of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) could make transport infrastructure more efficient. It implies that, rather than a focus on new infrastructure (e.g. expanding highways or building new rail capacity), making existing infrastructure more intelligent will be a key focus for passenger and freight transport investments in the future.
  • ITS also enables greater co-ordination between transport modes, enabling more seamless mobility solutions. This includes enabling transport modes to communicate with each other and the wider environment, as well as smarter ticketing solutions. ITS can therefore encourage public transport use through better information and reliability, and can also encourage uptake of more active modes of travel. This could shift some investment towards public transport as well as better walking and cycling infrastructure.
  • To achieve the required penetration rates of Electric Vehicles, suitable charging infrastructure will be a key enabler of market development. All new and existing public buildings, and all new commercial and residential buildings, could incorporate charging infrastructure points.
  • One of the major implications of connected and autonomous vehicles is that the data they gather can be used for other purposes. For example, connected cars could generate and share data on pothole locations or local weather conditions. Transport authorities will therefore need to become much better at collecting and analysing data and at communication system management.
  • Autonomous vehicles can also ‘platoon’ (drive more closely together at the same speed, like a train) which generates some energy efficiency gains but, more critically, also helps reduce congestion. That means that less new infrastructure may be required and roads could be made narrower, allowing more space for bike lanes or green infrastructure.
  • There are potential consequences for road signage and markings for autonomous vehicles. For example, new signage may need to be introduced to support autonomous vehicles to better navigate the environment, particularly in urban areas. In initial roll-outs of controlled, low-speed autonomous driving in urban environments, it may also be necessary to have defined kerbs or barriers to separate the cars from pedestrians and cyclists.
  • At a regional or city level, ‘last mile’ drone deliveries will require a clear understanding of the availability of airways and where drone delivery centres or hubs should be optimally placed. Public buildings and infrastructure may need to design in drone ports for take-off and arrival. There will also need to be skills development on how to operate drones safely for medical, fire or rescue purposes.
  • In the longer term, cities may need to build skyports for passenger drones. Some cities (e.g. Dubai) and companies (e.g. Uber) are already shifting their attention to the design of skyports to accommodate vertical take-off and landing capabilities.
  • Hydrogen fuel-filling station locations may need to be planned to provide maximum coverage, particularly in rural areas.

Key 5-year perspectives

  • Components of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) such as advanced sensing, intelligent street lighting, intelligent controls, travel planning tools and mobility-as-a-service, will see further adoption.
  • A 5G network will be a key enabler for fast and reliable data exchange, impacting on the evolution of ITS.
  • Drones will be used to deliver first aid kits or, equipped with 3D cameras, used in missing people searches, in accidents and in mountain rescues.

Key 30-year perspectives

  • Higher adoption of EVs will generate an increased need for electricity, especially from renewable sources.
  • Blockchain is being strongly investigated in Scotland for many applications. It can potentially be used for reliable automatic and authentication transactions for public transport fees, driving license applications, proof of registration or vehicle insurance, and potentially for low emission zone management.
  • Drones could be adopted in Scotland for cargo transportation or for short-distance (‘last mile’) delivery in city centres and low emission zones to decrease road congestion. By 2035, autonomous passenger drones could be in service in some areas.
  • Autonomous Vehicle (AVs) could see commercial deployment, particularly in logistics.
  • Hybridized Hydrogen fuel and Electric vehicles (EVs) could be used where they provide range extension capabilities compared to pure EVs.

Implications for inclusive growth and the transition to a low carbon economy

  • Progressive adoption of EVs in Scotland can lead to a substantial reduction of greenhouse gases helping to meet emissions targets.
  • The target for no new diesel or petrol cars by 2032 should generate a significant number of business and job opportunities in the area of engineering. Skills development related to EV infrastructure and car maintenance will also be required.
  • ITS and smart connections will support fast and reliable transport across Scotland. This can potentially impact on commuting to work, thus supporting social inclusion (though other factors such as public transport pricing are also important). ITS can also enhance tourism, thus supporting sustainable economic development in rural communities.

Impact of Technology on Infrastructure Areas