UP’s Engineering 4.0 to take transportation into the future

Posted on September 26, 2019

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) state-of-the-art Engineering 4.0 building, which is nearing completion, will host Africa’s first independent transport reference and testing facility. It will also be a research and training hub for smart transport systems, said Professor Sunil Maharaj, UP’s Dean of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology.

Prof Maharaj was speaking at a recent roof-wetting function that was attended by the UP Executive, architects, representatives of the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The building, which is close to UP’s Future Africa Campus in Hillcrest, is the result of a UP partnership with SANRAL and the CSIR.

In terms of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, innovation, infrastructure and sustainable cities and communities are critical for developing any economy. This new hub is aimed at installing UP as a leader in this field and making a distinct contribution to these goals.

“It aims to be a transportation research hub, which will foster inter-disciplinary research in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Prof Maharaj. Beyond its academic mandate, Engineering 4.0 will function as a hub for smart cities and transport, which will share its vast resources in technology and data sciences with all faculties via the Future Africa Campus, which is a platform for developing inter- and trans-disciplinary research networks within the university and the global research community.

Mo Phala of ARC Architects passes Virtual Reality goggles to UP Vice-Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe so he can experience what the completed building will look like.

Prof Maharaj explained that the structure is built in three parts. SANRAL’s National Roads Materials Reference Laboratory will be the site for independent reference testing of materials for the road construction industry. Such testing will characterise materials for appropriate construction. The independent materials reference and testing facility will be the first in Africa.

There is also a laboratory for the training and certification of laboratory technicians and engineering students. The objective is to ensure that materials testing in the field is up to standard and that the technicians who conduct the testing are capable and certified to do such tests with a high degree of accuracy, explained Prof Maharaj.

Professor Wynand Steyn, Head of the Department of Civil Engineering, indicated that students will be exposed to hands-on research activities in these laboratories, supporting theoretical teaching. This will enable a deeper understanding of the civil engineering curriculum in preparation for their working life as civil engineers. “The new laboratory supersedes the existing one with a modern facility that is much larger and better laid out for optimal working conditions. The location inside a natural forest on campus supports a positive learning environment.”

The Engineering 4.0 campus also has an Accelerated Pavement Testing (APT) facility and active traffic track for real-traffic testing. This unique facility allows one to characterise pavement design and construction while using data obtained from the active traffic lane to model many aspects in transportation systems. “The proximity of this hub to the highway (N1/N4 highway) is unique as, adjacent to the facility, we have an active test lane on the highway, which is the first for Africa, where we will collect real-time data to measure and model transport systems, design and test Internet of Things sensors and devices,” said Prof Steyn. Such data and models will support the planning and designing of future transportation systems, and support cost effective and innovative pavement engineering for Africa infrastructure development.

SANRAL decided to initiate and support the project, as it allows for research, training and education of road pavement specialists on all levels (technicians to engineers with PhDs) and it combines the talent of UP students and staff with that of CSIR staff. It also brings researchers from South Africa and across Africa together in a collaborative and interdisciplinary work approach. This is to support the economic growth of South Africa through improved understanding of vehicle-pavement interaction, explained Prof Maharaj.

UP’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe, said: “We are not talking about anticipating the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are living in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are talking about anticipating the Fifth Industrial Revolution.”

He explained that “infrastructure is fundamental to economic growth. It deals with smart transportation and can be transformative to the country, continent and globally. This will be key to the trans-disciplinary activities of teaching, research, testing and training, and collaboration.”

Construction of the building began in August 2018 and completion is expected in February 2020.

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