Putting out cones is still currently undertaken manually by two people working in tandem on the rear of a vehicle. The bulk of this work is undertaken at night and carried out in most weathers with the workers lifting up to 10 tonnes of equipment per shift. With motorway traffic thundering past, putting out cones requires a certain kind of nerve. It is also ergonomically challenging.
The new machines set out the cones mechanically and could be in use by the end of the year.
Two vehicles have been developed. The first, created by Highway Care, has been undergoing testing at the Bruntingthorpe proving ground in Lutterworth, Leicestershire.
Footage of this machine at work has been released by Highways England this week.
The second vehicle, developed by competitor King Highway Products, is due to be trialled next month.
The cone laying vehicles must be able to lay/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. It is hoped both machines will be on the roads before the end of 2020.
Civil engineering contractor Kier and subcontractor HW Martin Traffic Management are also involved in the development project.
Highways England is funding the development and establishment of a minimum standard while the companies themselves are developing the vehicles.
Highways England head of improvement Martin Bolt, who leads the project, said: “We are constantly looking for ways to improve safety for everyone who works and travels on our road network and have been delighted with the initial tests of this innovative vehicle.
“The first tests have been very positive. We have already received a lot of interest and support from the industry, applauding an initiative which will take the human element out of putting cones and therefore take away an element of potential risk.
“As well as taking away this physical and laborious task, these automated machines will also help us to redeploy the workforce to some of the many other traffic management duties.”
And here's the traditional method...