Funding competition Developing digital roads and improving air quality (feasibility study and development or pilot, 2 phases): SBRI competition

Highways England is funding 2 parallel competitions for solutions and ideas designed for use on UK roads. This competition is for unproven feasibility projects (low TRL).

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


Highways England is investing up to £20 million across 2 parallel competitions to develop innovative ideas and solutions. These must change the way UK roads are designed, managed and used and must not have already been demonstrated on the strategic road network in England.

This is a 2 phase Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition. It is for projects where feasibility has not yet been proven (low technology readiness level) .

Phase 1: technical feasibility

Up to £2 million is available in phase 1 for projects to develop feasibility studies. Projects will be awarded up to £75, 000, including VAT, per project lasting up to 8 weeks.

Phase 2: prototype development and evaluation

This second phase involves research and development (R&D) contracts being awarded to successful applicants eligible to apply from phase 1. Up to £6 million is available for the whole phase with a view to producing a prototype. Projects will be awarded up to £1 million including VAT.

For innovations where feasibility has been proven (mid to high TRL), you should apply for the single phase competition.

This competition will cover 6 themes:

  1. Design, construction and maintenance.
  2. Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).
  3. Customer mobility.
  4. Energy and environment.
  5. Operations.
  6. Air quality.

This competition closes at midday 12pm UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

We expect total costs of up to £75,000, including VAT, for each project in phase 1 and up to £1 million, including VAT, for phase 2.

Who can apply

You should only apply to this competition if your innovation has not yet been proven (low technology readiness level) and requires evidence to determine feasibility. Phase 2 of this competition is to develop feasibility proven in phase 1.

Your phase 1 feasibility study can last up to 2 months. Phase 1 is expected to start by September 2019 and must end by November 2019. Phase 2 is expected to start in December 2019 and must be complete by August 2020.

The most promising ideas from phase 1 will be taken through a separate closed application process followed by development and prototyping (phase 2) which can last up to 9 months.

To lead a project, you can:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • work alone or with others from business, the research base or the third sector as subcontractors

Your idea must be suitable for trial on the strategic road network in England.

If your project’s total eligible costs or duration fall outside of our eligibility criteria, you must provide justification by email to at least 10 days before the competition closes. We will decide whether to approve your request.


A total of up to £2 million, including VAT, for phase 1 and £6 million, including VAT, for phase 2 is available to fund projects in this competition.

The funding will be split between the 6 themes. We will apply a portfolio approach in this competition.

In phase 1, funding will be awarded to support the gathering of feasibility evidence of a concept. Phase 2 funding will be to further develop this now proven concept to prototype stage.

We expect to fund up to 20 projects.

Funding will be allocated based on the following rules:

  1. Your proposed solution must aim to deliver the areas of focus in pages 41 to 49 of Connecting the Country: planning for the longer term under each of the 6 themes detailed in the scope.
  2. This competition aims to discover projects to tackle transport challenges in the 6 themes. Projects with TRL 4 to 7 will be prioritised over any proposals with TRL level 1 to 3.
  3. Proposals must demonstrate that the approach is novel or innovative, either through a wholly new approach or by applying an established approach from another field to a transport and air quality challenge.
  4. Proposals must provide or advance credible, deployable ways of tackling the transport challenges within Connecting the Country: planning for the longer term.
  5. Proposals can use appropriate technology from alternative industries and adapt it for use on the strategic road network.
  6. Proposals can introduce proven technology from other countries and adapt it for use on the strategic road network.

Applications must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively for research and development (R&D) services. R&D can cover solution exploration and design. It can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service.

R&D does not include:

  • commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

If we do not receive enough high quality applications we may not award all (or any) of the funding.

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to generate practical ideas and solutions.

Your project must be relevant to the UK public highway. It can focus on particular types of road (from all-purpose trunk roads to motorways) or types of road use (including public transport and freight). It can either be location-specific or generic.

This competition covers 6 themes:

  1. Design, construction and maintenance.
  2. Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).
  3. Customer mobility.
  4. Energy and environment.
  5. Operations.
  6. Air quality.

The 6 themes are defined in detail in the specific themes section.

If your project spans more than one theme, you must select the one that reflects the majority of work in your application and clearly state the other themes within the scope.

Examples of anticipated benefits of the solution include:

  • improved air quality
  • improved road safety, network capacity or performance
  • more efficient use of vehicles, such as increased vehicle occupancy
  • improved journey quality
  • new travel opportunities to ensure accessibility for all
  • the enhancement of public spaces

The list above is not exhaustive or definitive. Applicants are free to highlight other potential benefits to safety, customer service, delivery or the environment that their ideas may help to deliver.

Specific themes

Theme 1: Design, construction and maintenance

Over the next 30 years and beyond, Highways England wants to improve the resilience and ease of design, construction and maintenance of its assets (roads, bridges, traffic signs and so on), focusing on the following areas:

1.Automated designs

Automation of the design process to make schemes more efficient and reduce the potential for human error, looking to gradually increase the level and scope of automation.

2.Asset data improvements

Increasing the number of sensors embedded in our assets and the level of data collection both from the physical assets and other sources, such as vehicles

3.Asset management maturity

Creating a sophisticated and unified asset management system. Moving towards analytics of real time data to improve decision making and efficiency of expenditure across all assets

4.Automated construction, maintenance, and inspections

Exploring options to make construction work safer and more efficient, including opportunities for incorporating robotic construction and using drones to help inspect and manage assets.

5.Modular construction

Adoption of modular construction techniques, reducing the level of roadside working, increasing the pace of construction, and reducing the cost and time taken to renew components.

6.Smart materials

Reducing the amount of reactive maintenance. This can be done using advanced materials conducive to a self-maintaining, better co-ordinated network that is capable of extending asset life and using assets that either self-heal or do not fail.

Theme 2: Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

1.Supporting connected cars

Maximising benefits of the increase in road traffic connectivity, given the expected rates of public uptake of connected technology.

2.Preparing for the operation of a mixed fleet

Understanding and addressing the challenges of safe operation and communications that early users of CAV technology on the network might face which is likely to be from the second road investment strategy (RIS2) onwards.

Developing Highways England’s role in supporting and enabling CAVs.

3.Aiming to maximise the capacity and safety benefits of CAVs

Using the data available to Highways England as a network operator and road traffic data

Theme 3: Customer mobility

1.Customer experience

Ensuring that road users will have a positive experience with motorways service areas and other supporting infrastructure.

2.Connecting hubs

Supporting transport connectivity across the country, seeking to improve connections between different modes of transport and enable smooth onward journeys.

Theme 4: energy and environment

1.Reducing our impact on neighbours and the environment

Highways England aspires to a network which minimises its impact upon natural environments and protects our heritage, whilst actively resolving noise and other issues for our neighbours.

2.Sustainable operations

Enhancements to and renewals of our network in an increasingly sustainable manner. Our future

investments will seek to be more efficient and resilient, reducing waste during the lifetime of our assets.

Theme 5: Operations

1.Customer service

In line with Highways England’s customer focus to improve understanding of the customer, provide better information to the customer, maximise the benefits of connected cars and prepare for changes in customer behaviour.

2.Traffic management

Improving Highways England’s ability to manage the network in real time and to high levels of safety. This is done through state of the art control centres, our on-road service, and traffic analytics. A more free-flowing network and greater operational resilience could greatly improve the users’ experience.


Working towards predictable and efficiently-delivered works, with disruption mitigated through better planning, co-ordination, communication and new technology.

4.Incident and severe weather response

Working towards the delivery of a modern, technologically-enabled response to incidents to keep the network open.

We encourage projects covering themes 1 to 5 to consider:

  • that the UK already has an extensive, mature road network
  • that roads will be used by conventional vehicles with human drivers for the foreseeable future, but infrastructure will need to be future-proofed for CAVs
  • that changes will need to be acceptable to the public as well as making sense from a technical and economic standpoint
  • that minimising the frequency, severity and impact of incidents, and the resilience of the road network generally, will continue to be a priority
  • that other changes will occur on roads at the same time as the adoption of CAVs, notably the take up of electric vehicles

We also encourage projects which outline how they relate to a plausible long-term vision for UK roads in 2050 and beyond.

6. Air quality

We will focus on innovations which:

  • are targeted at oxides of nitrogen pollution as a priority
  • are methods targeted at other air pollutants (lower priority)
  • enable lower pollution concentrations experienced by neighbouring communities
  • are deliverable by Highways England, either acting alone or in partnership with organisations such as local authorities, freight haulage companies, fleet operators or other government agencies

Please refer to

Applicants must follow the source, pathway, receptor model. This might help you consider how your proposal could influence pollution and how it is experienced by local populations. Potential methods could affect:

  • the source, in other words how pollution is produced, such as on-vehicle methods, traffic management, speed control, encouraging use of ultra-low-emission vehicles and changing modes of transport
  • the pathway, how pollution moves through the environment, including barriers, pollution absorbing materials and pollution dispersal methods
  • or the receptor, or how pollution is experienced by property insulation, positive ventilation, filtration and so on

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that:

  • have already proven feasibility, though you can apply for funding for these projects in the parallel competition
  • do not directly apply to the UK public highway used by motorised vehicles
  • focus on non-road transport modes, such as rail
  • focus on forecasting demand for road use, or the current planning processes for delivering road schemes
  • primarily focus on vehicles
  • cover items already trialled on the strategic road network in England
  • will not lead to capital investment
  • focus on measures designed to improve air quality for vehicle occupants
  • provide solutions in the area of socio-economic research, communications research, market research or literature review
  • proposals that just seek to refine and or improve the way we advance our UK CITE project, A2 or M2 corridor and Intercor projects
  • are focused on stopped vehicle detection
11 February 2019
Competition opens
14 February 2019
Applicant briefing recording.
1 May 2019 12:00pm
Registration closes
8 May 2019 12:00pm
Competition closes
21 June 2019
Applicants notified
5 July 2019
2 August 2019
Phase 1 contracts awarded
14 October 2019
Phase 2 opens
6 November 2019
Phase 2 submission deadline
2 December 2019
Phase 2 contracts awarded

Before you start

To apply:

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

A selected panel of experts will assess the quality of your application. A panel appointed by Highways England will review the assessment and make the final decision on projects that will be funded. To be eligible your application must be submitted using Microsoft Word

Background and further information

About SBRI competitions

SBRI provides innovative solutions to challenges faced by the public sector. This can lead to better public services and improved efficiency and effectiveness. SBRI supports economic growth and enables the development of innovative products and services. It does this through the public procurement of research and development (R&D).

SBRI generates new business opportunities for companies and provides a route to market for their ideas. It also bridges the seed funding gap experienced by many early-stage companies.

Further help and information

You can find information on how to enter this competition in the invitation to tender document, which is available for download on our secure site after registration.

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

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