Innovation and Sustainability: Key Themes at NZ Roading Industry Conferences

The two recent industry conferences, RIMS and the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, were packed with conversation on the challenges they have faced since the pandemic and the innovative ways to move forward.

The RIMS Forum, held in March 2021, was rightfully titled “Beyond 2020” as they set their sights on a future with innovation. As the presentations aimed at the broad roading infrastructure management industry, the community witnessed ingenuity, with examples of leading best practice.

The Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency & NZiHT 20th Annual Conference also looked to the future and how innovation will sustainably improve the roading industry.

Our Impressions

The past year was shrouded in uncertainty the world over and this adversity has provided us an opportunity to reassess and re-innovate. These conferences served their purpose to reignite the conversation towards sustainability and innovation.

Both conferences brought the industry together as a community to showcase their ingenuity with leading good practice examples and adapting to current issues, innovation, and better management.

Several presenters focused on the impact of covid-19, the lack of sustainable tourism and the impact that had on their funding cycle. There was also heavy focus on data quality and industry standardisation; making sure we capture high accuracy data which can be relied upon to make the right decisions and owning the outcomes.

Key Conversations

There were a couple of key topics that emerged in both the conferences which really resonated with us:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
With constant technological evolution, numerous papers on AI and machine learning were presented to showcase its capabilities and benefits for surveying. It is a wonderful experience to understand that the industry has access to varied type of technology to tap into. AI and machine learning elevates inspections to the next century – moving visual inspections into automated detection through video imagery. Using current and historical data like FWD and HSD datasets, machine learning will allow us treatment predictions in the very near future – adding yet another wow factor!

Climate Change
Though not a new conversation, but equally important, the community reviewed the impact of climate change in New Zealand with mentions to Southland floods, Auckland Drought, Northland rains, the Otago fires, Napier floods, etc. How will the land transport industry contribute to reduce greenhouse emission to meet NZ national targets of zero emission by 2050? The conversation steered towards the need to incentivise public transport, carpooling, and low emission cars. One thought is to discourage driving by tolling roads at peak hours; keeping the traffic flowing. Another is how to accommodate new modes of transport such as the electric scooters and cars. There was a general consensus though that we now have the knowledge, and the tools, to move sustainably into the future but we must act now.