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Engineering firm puts road surface sensor to the test

A SCOTTISH engineering company is hoping for sales growth at home and abroad as it embarks on field tests of a novel sensor product that monitors the conditions of roads and runways.

Findlay Irvine has been developing a prototype with backing from Censis, the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensors and Imaging Systems.

The device uses infrared to determine conditions including whether snow and ice are covering a road.

That can then be used to provide information such as the optimum time to put grit down on roads and also make sure the right amount of salt is added in order to avoid damaging the surface.

At the moment sensors typically have to be embedded into a road or runway, meaning closures and groundworks.

However, the new product can be placed alongside a carriageway, giving greater flexibility of deployment and also reducing the need for any infrastructure work.

Colin Irvine, managing director of Findlay Irvine, said: "The sensors we sell actually get fitted in the road or runway and that requires traffic management, digging and quite a lot of upheaval for the customer.

"These new products provide the same measurements but are non-invasive, so it is a huge advantage for the customer at inst­allation time and for the ongoing maintenance as well."

Up to ten of the new sensors will be deployed across Scotland and England this coming winter to monitor performance, with the exp­ectation a commercial launch could happen as soon as 2015.

Mr Irvine said: "We are going to look at the data that comes back from [the trials]. By the end of next winter season hopefully we will have the model refined and the intention is to offer it as a product at that point in time."

According to Mr Irvine the new sensor will allow Findlay Irvine to also sell complete weather systems that can compete with the best currently on offer in the marketplace, which is thought to be worth about £25 million annually.

He said: "We have had a number of existing customers who take our road-based sensor who have already expressed an interest in the product, and some have said they are happy to run the trials this winter.

"We also have a number of prospective customers who we know are interested and there is obviously a worldwide export market for this type of technology. This will give us a product that is competitive in the world market."

Censis provided £20,000 of initial funding, while the Technology Strategy Board also gave £230,000 for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership for Findlay Irvine to develop the sensor with Glasgow University.

Professor Andy Harvey, leader of Glasgow University's Imaging Concepts Group, said: "We have a great network of academic knowledge across the UK for industry to tap into, and this project is further proof of the results that can be achieved when this happens.

"It's a good example of how expertise in universities can be applied to real-world problems and commercialised to benefit business.

"At the same time, it gives researchers industry experience and knowledge which can then be fed back into higher education."

Ian Reid, chief executive of Censis, said: "Our aim is to bring the worlds of academia and industry together to the benefit of everyone involved. The project involving Findlay Irvine and the University of Glasgow is a great example of how both can benefit from increased collaboration."

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